“Gifts” for Cornwall ahead of G7 talks

Investment in three Cornish towns worth more than £65m and a major nature recovery initiative across 21,000 hectares of land were announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night, as he prepared to host the G7 Summit of major world leaders in Carbis Bay.

(From the print edition of today’s Western Morning News)

The Town Deals announced for Penzance, St Ives and Camborne will fund projects at the heart of communities in some of Cornwall’s most deprived areas.

This includes creating a new network of foot and cycle paths across Camborne, Penzance and from St Ives to St Erth. Community hubs including theatres, sports clubs and historic buildings will also be restored and expanded, to ensure both residents and visitors can fully enjoy the cultural heritage of the region. 

Other funding will go to sustain businesses and commercial sectors most badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic and to create new business hubs in the towns designed to re-establish them as “economic powerhouses and centres of innovation” – creating new jobs.

And in an effort to reverse the decline in biodiversity and restore Cornwall’s natural environment the Government, in partnership with Natural England and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, is launching a land restoration and regeneration programme, planting trees, restoring peat, making improvements to water quality, recreating scarce habitats and reintroducing lost and declining species such as dormice and the marsh fritillary. 

Boris Johnson, said: “As the eyes of the world look to Cornwall this week, not only will they see an area of outstanding beauty, they will witness a region that is innovative, exciting and looking firmly towards a bright future.

“The exciting projects we have announced today are a fitting legacy for a region playing host to some of the most important diplomatic talks in a generation. As the world builds back better from coronavirus, Cornwall will lead the way.” 

Natural England Chair, Tony Juniper, said: “We are very pleased to announce this new G7 environmental legacy project in Cornwall. It will assist with nature recovery through reconnecting habitats and ecosystems across the region, contributing to the conservation of rare species, carbon capture and improved water quality.”

The Government says it is working closely with Cornish leaders and institutions to shape the long-term legacy for the region from hosting the G7.  The Summit this week will profile local contractors – including its website being designed in Cornwall, tables for the Summit being made in Falmouth and gifts for world leaders being sourced from St Ives. Ahead of the Summit, the Government has also made a £7.8m investment into Cornwall Airport Newquay’s facilities.

Visit Cornwall estimates the total economic impact of hosting the G7 Summit will be £50 million – £24m during the event itself, and over £26m from future growth in the international tourist market over the next five years.

Proposed boundary changes and coastal communities

A correspondent writes:

One benefit of the proposed boundary changes is that there will be 2 coastal towns in the Honiton constituency and not one (Seaton).  Parish, with his Somerset farming background and farming interests in Parliament, seemed oblivious to the needs of the coast.  Perhaps now Sidmouth is included any future MP might feel the need to balance rural and coastal issues more carefully than heretofore.

Though maybe it would have been more sensible to split the constituencies into “East Devon Rural” and “East Devon Coastal” to allow MPs to concentrate on the very different issues and avoid conflicts of interest.

UK is only country in Europe where Covid cases are surging, grim graph reveals…

THE UK is the only country in Europe seeing a surge in Covid cases, grim graphs reveal.

Infections are being driven by the new Delta variant that first emerged in India.

Vanessa Chalmers www.thesun.co.uk (Extract)

The UK is the only nation in Europe seeing a surge in Covid cases, having had the lowest infection rate for months

At least 3,500 cases of Delta have been detected in the UK.

But the true figure is likely to be twice as high, given that only half of Covid tests are screened to see which variant they were caused by.

Daily new cases per million people have doubled in the UK between May 25 and June 7, according to official Covid figures collected by Our World in Data.

During the same period, other EU nations have continued on a downward trend.

Only France has seen a marginal uptick in cases, as health officials say there have been scattered clusters of the Delta strain.

The UK, diagnosing 74 cases per million a day, does not have the highest infection rate.

France, the Netherlands and Denmark among those with worser case rates.

However, if the UK’s cases continue to grow at the same pace, it looks to soon overtake those countries. 

Between January and mid-April, the UK’s case rate dwindled rapidly thanks to lockdowns and the vaccine drive.

Meanwhile, the rest of Europe battled a “third wave” which peaked around April time as its jab programme started at a snail pace.

But the tables have turned once more thanks to the Delta variant making its way onto British soil.

It ends an almost three-month spell of the UK having the lowest case rate in Europe.

Why has the NHS patient data-sharing scheme been pushed back?

Plans to allow an NHS system to extract patient data from doctors’ surgeries in England have now been pushed back by two months amid worries over privacy. Here are some of the key questions and concerns about the proposals.

Peter Walker www.theguardian.com

What is the plan?

Officially known as General Practice Data for Planning and Research, it had been due to come into force in England from 1 July, but has now been delayed to 1 September. The plan is to compile information about physical, mental and sexual health from GP surgeries into a central database, including diagnoses, symptoms, test results, medications, allergies, immunisations and referrals, as well as data on sex, ethnicity and sexual orientation, and on who has treated patients. It will exclude any identifying details such as names, addresses, images or details of conversations. Postcodes will be included, but in a coded form.

What data will be collected?

It will include everything for the last 10 years, and will be updated constantly as more data is added to GP records. Some elements of data are not allowed to be shared under law, for example about IVF treatment, and some information about gender re-assignment. Individual patients can also opt out from the scheme. They had been given until 23 June to exercise this right, but a now likely to have longer, though a new deadline has not yet been announced.

Why is it being collected?

According to NHS Digital, the data will be used for a “wide variety of research and analysis to help run and improve health and care services”. Among areas it highlights include the long-term impacts of Covid, health inequalities and research for serious illnesses. However, it will also be available to private sector organisations with the necessary provisions, although the data cannot be used purely for commercial purposes.

How is this different to what existed before?

It replaces a data system called General Practice Extraction Service, which also allows for the study of pseudonymised data (and in certain cases, data with identifying elements). However, rather than being one ever-updated central store of data, it is a more bespoke system, with individual GP practices voluntarily agreeing to take part and sending information when requests are made.

What are the objections?

There are two main worries. One is the sheer amount of data being held centrally, and the concern for breaches, or for the leak of any identifiable information. The other is what is seen as a lack of public information about the scheme, and the limited time for people to opt out. Similar concerns led to the scrapping of an earlier data-sharing scheme in England in 2016 called Care.data.

Who is concerned?

Primarily doctors’ groups. The Royal College of General Practitioners has written to NHS Digital to say that, while it backs the idea of data sharing, it was “critical that this is transparent and that patients have confidence and trust in how the NHS and other bodies might use their information”. On Friday last week, the British Medical Association called for the scheme to be delayed “until patients and the public have had time to be aware of and understand the programme and choose to opt-out if they wish”. On Sunday, Labour also called for a delay to allow for a wider consultation.

Local MPs and town council chairman respond to shake-up of parliamentary constituencies

Neil Parish feels “cut in half”.

Simon Jupp voted to stop parliament blocking the change but holds his thoughts on the proposals close to his chest.

Sidmouth Town Council Chairman, Ian Barlow, would be disappointed to lose “young and modern” Simon Jupp but thinks Sidmouth would no longer be overshadowed by Exmouth as it would become the largest town (by a short head) in the restructured “Honiton” constituency”.

Of course Neil Parish could be the candidate for “Tiverton and Bridgewater” which presumably includes his family farm and Simon Jupp could avoid a relocation by becoming the candidate for “Honiton”.

Does Budleigh now become a suburb of Exmouth? – Owl

Philippa Davies sidmouth.nub.news 

Reactions have been coming in following the boundary review announcement his morning, which would see Sidmouth becoming part of the Honiton parliamentary constituency.

A public consultation’s under way on the re-drawing of the boundary lines, which will create a new constituency for Exmouth, including Budleigh Salterton and Topsham, and another for the Tiverton area.

The Honiton constituency would have Sidmouth and Ottery on its western border, with Axminster on its eastern edge: read more and view the map here.

Constituency boundaries are changed regularly in response to population growth in some areas, to make sure that each MP has a similar number of people eligible to vote in their patch.

The chairman of Sidmouth Town Council, Ian Barlow, told Sidmouth Nub News there would probably be ‘pros and cons’ to the changes, but he would be disappointed if they result in Sidmouth losing Simon Jupp, the current East Devon MP, as the town’s parliamentary representative.

He said: “Simon Jupp is young and modern, and he seems to be working really hard for Sidmouth, engaging with us at town council level which I think is unusual, and it’ll be a shame if he’s not our MP any more.

“The only bonus to Sidmouth is that we would be the largest town in that constituency – in East Devon we’re the second largest town and maybe we’re missing out because of that.”

Mr Jupp told us: “The constituency I’m proud to represent contains the largest population in Devon and has to change under the rules of the boundary review. I will put forward my views as part of the consultation process as the East Devon constituency will change to reflect a growing population across the area. I voted to ensure Parliament can’t block the final recommendations which are designed to make Parliamentary representation fairer across the United Kingdom.”

Neil Parish, the MP for the current Honiton and Tiverton constituency which looks set to be split in two, expressed shock at being ‘cut in half’.

Talking to Nub News, he said: “I was not expecting Tiverton and Honiton to be sliced apart. It was certainly a surprise, and this clearly affects my position as the constituency’s MP.

“My current electorate will be split and so I will no longer be able to represent each of my current constituents.

“I will have to await the final proposals in full, to ensure I have all the details, before I can make any decisions on whom I will seek to represent within the new boundaries.”

In terms of Devon as a whole, the planned changes would mean an additional MP.

The public consultation runs until August 2. To view the proposed changes in full, and submit a response, click here.

Shock maps reveal rapid spread of Indian variant in WEEKS – is your area a hotspot?…

MAPS reveal how quickly the super infectious Delta (Indian) variant spread to all corners of the country. 

In just two weeks, the strain went from a proportion of 38 per cent to 75 per cent, making it dominant in England.

Vanessa Chalmers www.thesun.co.uk  (extract)

May 15: Where the Delta (Indian) variant had become dominant

May 29: Where the Delta (Indian) variant is now dominant

The data from the Welcome Sanger Institute shows how fast the variant has managed to grip the UK, having only been detected for the first time on April 10.

It’s reminiscent of the Alpha (Kent) strain which caused havoc at the end of 2020 when it soared to dominance in a matter of weeks, throwing England into the third lockdown.

The data comes amid growing pressure to delay the June 21 unlocking in England. 

The Delta variant is driving the rise in Covid cases, alongside lifting of restrictions.

Experts have said it is now evident the UK is at the start of a third wave and things would only escalate if June 12 went ahead. 

Not only is the Delta variant (B.1.617.2) faster spreading by around 40 per cent, but there is now evidence that it causes more severe disease.

But rising cases is yet to be mirrored by increasing hospital cases, however, with the latest data showing patient numbers have climbed slightly.

The NHS is in a race to double jab the vulnerable as fast as possible given that one jab is not considered protective enough

But some Tory MPs are fighting against “moving goalposts” for the opening of society due to the damage it will have on businesses. 

There are reports the PM is considering holding back by just two weeks to allow more time for vaccinations, with a decision imminent.

Data from the Sanger Insitute – which tracks Covid variants – shows that in the fortnight to May 15, the Delta variant had already become dominant in no more than 50 areas.

Fast-forward to May 29 – the most recent date available – the Indian variant has become dominant in at least 150 areas.

The Delta variant (B.1.617.2) now makes up 75 per cent of cases, according to Sanger data which does not take into account travel related or surge testing cases. The Alpha (Kent, B.1.1.7 ) strain is the cause of only 23 per cent of cases

Dominance means that of all Covid cases sequenced, B.1.617.2 is making up at least half.

On May 15 the “hotspots” were visible and centred in the North West. Parts of the South West and South East, including London, were also more affected. 

But now there is a sea of dominance in the Midlands, with hotspots including Derby and Leicester.

Delta has spread throughout the South East, now dominant in the majority of London boroughs, through to Kent and some parts of Essex.

Only parts of the South coast spared, such as Brighton.

The North West region has become completely overthrown by the variant, having had hotspots of Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen for a few weeks. 

The maps also show the Delta variant spread quite rapidly to the East of England in one fortnight.

And parts of the South West are also facing a growing epidemic, including Cornwall and North Somerset.

Case numbers are not always high in areas where the Delta variant is dominant. 

The article goes on to list hotspots by case numbers and by dominance.

Cornwall hospital discharging patients to free space for G7, claim Lib Dems

Fears have been raised that patients are being discharged from Cornwall’s main hospital to clear space in case it is needed for VIPs, delegates, police or protesters during the G7 summit.

Steven Morris www.theguardian.com 

The Liberal Democrats in Cornwall claimed two wards had been emptied at the Royal Cornwall hospital in Truro in readiness for the three-day meeting of world leaders.

Health officials refused to discuss details of their plans but confirmed that “capacity” was being created to prepare for the event, which begins on Friday.

Andrew George, the health spokesperson for the Lib Dems in Cornwall, accused the UK government of not planning adequately for the event, during which tens of thousands of delegates, police, protesters and media representatives will descend on the far south-west of Britain.

George said: “The early discharge of sick patients to clear hospital wards is among the inevitable consequences of the government failing to put proper plans in place before the G7 comes to town.”

One woman, from Newquay, claimed she had been asked to find a care home bed for her 97-year-old father who is in the hospital, which is known locally as Treliske.

The woman, who spoke to Radio Cornwall and gave her name as Lindsey, said: “I was absolutely incensed at the thought that patients needing treatment are being shipped out of hospital, and local people including my father are not able to find a space. I am absolutely disgusted with the situation.

“A care home owner told me that Treliske hospital has to provide 78 empty beds for the G7 and that patients were being sent out of the hospital into care homes and so she said you were very unlikely to find anywhere.”

NHS Kernow said: “As at any time when we expect increased demand for our services, we work together with our health and care partners to create additional capacity in our hospitals. We have done this to ensure we are prepared for G7, as we would with any major event in the county.

“Patients being discharged are, as always, medically fit and with an adult social care package in place when required. This is business as usual for health and social care.

“It is not good for people to remain in hospital longer than they need to and places additional pressure on our hospitals. We work closely with Cornwall council to ensure it has put in place a social care package to support anyone who is fit and well enough to leave hospital. Especially when our hospitals are so busy.”

On Tuesday, NHS Kernow tweeted a request for people to help the health service during the summit by only calling 999 if they faced a life-threatening emergency and believed they needed the care of a paramedic on the way to hospital.

NHS Kernow also urged people not to turn up at a minor injury unit without contacting NHS 111 first and not to visit an emergency department “unless you have an urgent, life-threatening condition such as a suspected heart attack, stroke, severe loss of blood, difficulty breathing, or are unconscious”.

It also advised people who are booked for a Covid vaccination to allow extra time for journeys if they live in an area where there will be travel disruptions.

A UK government spokesperson said: “The government has not requested that any patients be removed from local hospitals to prepare for the G7 summit. Decisions on patient care are matter for the local NHS, and Cornwall council is responsible for adult social care provision.”

Judge slams Michael Gove’s office as openDemocracy wins transparency court case

openDemocracy has won a significant legal victory against the UK government. The judgement forces transparency on a secretive unit accused of ‘blacklisting’ Freedom of Information requests from journalists, campaigners and others.

Peter Geoghegan www.opendemocracy.net 

After a three-year battle, judge Chris Hughes found that the documents the Cabinet Office presented in court about the controversial Clearing House unit were ‘misleading’. He added that there is a “profound lack of transparency about the operation”, which might “extend to ministers”.

Finding in openDemocracy’s favour, Hughes also criticised the Cabinet Office for a “lacuna in public information” about how the Clearing House coordinates Freedom of Information (FOI) requests referred to it by government departments and agencies.

The Cabinet Office had offered an out-of-date Wikipedia entry as evidence that information about the Clearing House, which circulates lists of journalists across Whitehall, was available to the public.

The ruling came in an information tribunal case taken by openDemocracy, with public interest law firm Leigh Day, in a bid to bring transparency to the Cabinet Office Clearing House. The case was heard in April but the judgement was published only late last month.

openDemocracy had previously revealed that the Clearing House has blocked the release of politically sensitive information, in one instance comparing the handling of an FOI request to the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove had previously called openDemocracy’s journalism “ridiculous and tendentious” but his department has now been ordered to release further details of how the Clearing House blocked FOI requests.

Tory MP David Davis called for change, saying the ruling ‘demonstrates what we have known all along’

The judge said that “given all the circumstances” including “a lack of accurate publicly available information about the constitutionally significant role in coordinating FOI responses there is real weight in the public interest in disclosure”. The Cabinet Office has yet to release the documents to openDemocracy.

The tribunal judgment has been hailed as a major victory by politicians and transparency campaigners.

Shadow cabinet office secretary Angela Rayner urged Gove to “intervene and set out how he will be ensuring that this government abides by the law and upholds the right of citizens, journalists and campaigners to access information under Freedom of Information”.

Conservative MP David Davis called for immediate change, claiming the ruling “demonstrates what we have known all along”.

He said the Cabinet Office had “failed to meet its obligation either to the letter or the principle of the Freedom of Information Act and has withheld important information about government activity from the public domain”.

Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said: “This is an important win in an FOI battle to get the Cabinet Office to come clean about the tracking of FOI requests made by journalists and NGOs.”

The judge also noted that the Cabinet Office had “minimised the significance of” the Clearing House FOI list, which is circulated daily across Whitehall and which has contained the names and details of journalists from openDemocracy, The Guardian, The Times, the BBC, and many others, as well as researchers and campaigners. These lists also contain the Cabinet Office’s advice to departments on how to handle FOI requests.

Freedom of Information requests are supposed to be ‘applicant-blind’, meaning who makes the request should not matter. Data protection experts have warned that the Clearing House could be breaking the law.

‘High political sensitivity’

The Clearing House has existed since FOI legislation was introduced. The Cabinet Office took responsibility for the unit in 2015, which started to receive significant attention only after openDemocracy revealed extensive details about its operation late last year. In February, more than a dozen former and serving Fleet Street editors signed an open letter calling for an inquiry into its operation.

The tribunal ruling comes almost three years after openDemocracy first asked for a sample of the Clearing House lists, in August 2018. When the Cabinet Office appealed against an order from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to disclose details of the Clearing House, openDemocracy took a case to the information tribunal.

The Cabinet Office had previously insisted that the FOI unit was fully compliant with all legislation. Ahead of the tribunal in April, Michael Gove wrote to The Guardian and the Society of Editors criticising openDemocracy’s reporting on the Clearing House.

But behind the scenes, the Cabinet Office backtracked. Gove’s department published information about the Clearing House, including criteria by which FOI requests – such as those regarding “cases involving high political sensitivity” – were referred for review.

The unit also released some of its lists, which showed that the Clearing House had encouraged departments to dismiss information requests.

In one case, the unit said that an FOI for details of government records systems from Times journalist George Greenwood “appears to have no discernible purpose”.

At the hearing, the Cabinet Office said the Clearing House handled round robin requests sent to multiple government departments but stated that these lists did not include requests deemed ‘sensitive’.

Noting that the Cabinet Office had “changed its position radically”, the judge found that Gove’s department had “misled” the tribunal by originally stating that the Clearing House lists included ‘sensitive’ data, which would have justified withholding the information.

However, questions have been raised about the Cabinet Office’s argument at the tribunal. Analysis conducted by openDemocracy has found that a third of requests on a sample Clearing House list released under FOI were individual requests that had not been sent to multiple departments. Often these requests were of high public interest.

Documents obtained by openDemocracy also show that Whitehall departments have routinely flagged ‘sensitive’ requests to the Clearing House. In one instance, the Cabinet Office unit instructed the Treasury to withhold information from infected blood campaigner Jason Evans, whose father died after being given blood contaminated with HIV.

Katherine Gundersen, deputy director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said: “The Cabinet Office’s handling of this request raises questions about its fitness to advise other departments on FOI.

“It inaccurately described the contents of its ‘round robin’ lists, misleading its own minister, the Information Commissioner and the tribunal by suggesting the information was more sensitive than it actually was.”

Noting that the Cabinet Office had ‘changed its position radically’, the judge found that it had ‘misled’ the tribunal

An openDemocracy report, ‘Art of Darkness’, which was published last year, found that the Cabinet Office is the worst performing Whitehall department on key FOI metrics.

Since the report was written, the Cabinet Office has stonewalled a number of requests from openDemocracy about the Clearing House operation.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson told openDemocracy: “A Clearing House function has existed since 2004 to help ensure there is a consistent approach across government to requests for information which go to a number of different departments or where requests are made for particularly sensitive information.

“We remain committed to transparency and always balance the need to make information available with our legal duty to protect sensitive information.

“In order to be as transparent as possible we have released the vast majority of information that was requested in this case and have already published a considerable amount of information on Clearing House, including a gov.uk page explaining its purpose and remit.”

An ICO spokesperson said: “We welcome the decision of the tribunal”.

The round robin lists released to openDemocracy can be viewed here, which are being hosted at a new research project at the University of Westminster, UK Unredacted.