Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 16 August

Protests grow against new council homes on green spaces in London

Protests are growing across London against plans to build thousands of new council homes on green spaces and existing estates.

Harriet Grant 

Local authorities need to build desperately needed homes for social rent but they are facing resistance on the streets and in the courts, as council residents fight the destruction of communal gardens in dense and polluted areas.

Weekly protests have been taking place in Peckham, south London, where on 11 August Southwark council began tearing down mature trees on Joycelyn Street Park.

As they did so, campaigners called out “shame on you”. The trees are being removed to make way for the major Flaxyard development, which will bring 120 new homes, 96 of them for council rent.

The area is officially a brownfield site, one of the council’s arguments for building homes on it. But walking through it looks and feels very much like a small park. The new homes that will replace it sit minutes from one of the borough’s most polluted roads.

Southwark council says it needs to build homes for thousands of families stuck in overcrowded accommodation or bed and breakfasts.

In June Southwark said it would look again at plans to build on a large play area in Bermondsey – but it is facing further opposition on multiple estates.

The Bells Garden estate in Peckham sits in a densely packed corner of south London, ringed by busy roads. The estate has large communal green spaces scattered with mature trees and play areas.

It is at the centre of a standoff over plans to build 97 new homes – 65 for council rent – taking part of the communal green and play spaces.

“These flats were built on top of terrace houses,” said Paul Wright, chair of the tenants and residents association. “And the green spaces were to compensate for the lack of gardens.”

“We have worked it out that given the increase in the number of people living here there is a loss of 40% of green space per head. And they want to swap a football cage used by many children and teenagers for a smaller one aimed at young kids.”

He added that local people felt they were not being listened to.

Local campaigner Janine Below blinks back tears as she walks through the estate. She believes that increasing the density by so many flats can only make the estate worse.

“We pick pears here, this estate has beautiful mature trees, but 37 of them are due to go. This is a working-class community and we need these spaces for our mental and physical health.”

The council says the site will be well provided for, with new play spaces and a “linear walkway” – as well as providing urgently needed homes. It has made a much-publicised promise to build 11,000 new homes for social rent by 2043.

Stephanie Cryan, cabinet member for council homes and homelessness, said: “Southwark is in the grip of a housing crisis with over 15,000 households on the waiting list for a home. We carefully assess the local area when planning new developments, including proximity to the borough’s extensive network of over 215 parks and green spaces.”

However, Tanya Murat, a coordinator for Southwark Defend Council Housing and founder of a new group opposing building homes on green spaces – Yes to Fair Redevelopment, is unconvinced and is angry that she is being accused of standing in the way of new homes.

“I have lived and worked in this area since the 90s and have been part of campaigns over the years to get developers to put more social homes in privately built estates,” she said. “So for the council to then turn round and say we don’t care about the homeless is disgraceful. We are in a climate and a mental health emergency, we need more green spaces not less.”

In Kilburn, north London, 700 people have signed a petition against the scale of development planned for Kilburn Square, where Brent council is consulting on plans for an extra 180 council homes. The plans will involve the removal of mature trees, a playground, a football pitch and open green space.

Keith Anderson, chair of the Kilburn Village Residents Association, says the site faces becoming seriously overcrowded.

“They are looking at increasing the number of people living here by over 80% – without expanding the current site, losing green spaces and mature trees,” he said.

He stresses that campaigners do not oppose new council homes, just the burden being placed on existing tenants. “The council own this land so it is easier for them to build here than if they have to negotiate with private developers. But the wellbeing of the residents here matters. We have been collecting memories and stories from residents and people are really worried about losing their community space, where they played as children and they can watch their children play now.”

The campaign site warns that “development is raising the temperature in cities with the running of buildings adding to heat produced and increasing climate change.”

Brent council has said it is still consulting on the site.

Residents are taking their fight to the courts, with more than one council facing legal action. In January a high court judge permitted the eviction of climate protesters on a site in Islington, north London, where they were trying to stop the destruction of several mature trees. The site, Dixon Clark Court, will be home to a block of private homes which the council says will help fund 25 new social homes nearby.

On the Mais House in Sydenham, one of the highest points in London, Helen Kinsey and her neighbours are in a battle with Lewisham council over plans to build 110 new social homes on the estate, taking part of the communal green and removing 19 mature trees.

“We live in flats so we don’t have gardens,” said Kinsey. “This green space fosters community. Children get to play among the mature trees and we have birthday parties here and Easter egg hunts.”

Kinsey and her neighbours secured an unusual victory in May against Lewisham at the high court, where a judge overturned planning permission for the new homes, ruling that the council had hidden key information about conservation from its own planning officers.

However, within weeks of that verdict the planning committee passed it again, something Kinsey finds incomprehensible. “We are devastated. We are social tenants here as well as private renters and owners. So we know there is an urgent need for council housing, but we don’t agree with the scale they are proposing here.”

Like other local authorities, Lewisham council says it is pressing ahead with what are desperately needed homes for local families. Paul Bell, cabinet member for housing and planning, said the site would not take up the whole communal green area and that some flats would have new private gardens.

Boris Johnson faces disgruntlement from Tory councillors over planning and cuts

Boris Johnson is facing a rising tide of disgruntlement among his own party’s grassroots councillors, amid anger about a decade of cuts and the imposition of planning reforms, which will downgrade town halls’ control over local development. 

A new survey, seen by The Independent, found that more than half of Conservative councillors think their local authority has been treated unfairly financially by central government, and two-thirds think Whitehall undervalues the role of local government.

Just 15 per cent – little over one in seven – of Tory councillors back Mr Johnson’s planning reforms, compared to more than three-fifths (61 per cent) who oppose them.

The findings came in a survey by think tank Unlock Democracy of almost 500 councillors from across England, which found an overwhelming 88 per cent believed the power balance was skewed too much in favour of central government, to the detriment of municipalities, counties, districts and boroughs.

One Tory councillor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that central government “fundamentally dislikes and distrusts local government” and “considers it a necessary evil at best”.

Another complained about “interference and nanny-stating by the central government when they know nothing about local issues”.

And another said that London uses a “one-size fits all approach” and ignores the advice of local councillors.

Deep cuts in central funding for local councils under Conservative-led governments since 2010, coupled with restraints on increases in locally raised council tax, had led to a 17 per cent fall in cash available for services by 2019, even before the additional financial pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A total of 83 per cent of councillors questioned said their authority had been treated unfairly financially, with fewer than 10 per cent of Tory councillors saying that their financial settlements had been “very fair”.

Proposals for a radical revision of the planning system unveiled by the prime minster last year lit the blue touch-paper for an explosion of opposition from town halls across the country. Those proposals have been blamed for contributing to the Tories’ humiliating defeat in the “Blue Wall” seat of Chesham and Amersham, seized by the Liberal Democrats in a June by-election on a remarkable 30 per cent swing.

Mr Johnson has blasted the English planning system as “a relic” which ensures there are “nowhere near enough homes in the right places”.

His radical plans would sweep away core elements of the system, replacing them with a US-style model designed to accelerate and simplify the delivery of housing and infrastructure projects. But critics claim they risk sidelining local councils and clearing the way for poor-quality slum housing.

Unlock Democracy director Tom Brake told The Independent: “It doesn’t matter which party local councillors represent, their disgruntlement with central government is clear. 

“Their efforts to level up their communities are hampered by a lack of powers and insufficient funding. 

“This is why Unlock Democracy is campaigning for a new settlement between national and local government, which would stop the centralisation on steroids experienced in the last four decades and give local councils real powers and real independence.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We’re levelling up all areas of the country by empowering our regions through devolving money, resources and control away from Westminster. Later this year we will publish a Levelling Up white paper, setting out how we will help further improve livelihoods.

“We’ve also increased English councils’ core spending power from £49 billion to £51.3 billion between 2020 and 2022.

“Our much-needed planning reforms will make sure there is more engagement and local democracy, and will simplify and modernise the system – making it quicker and more efficient.”

  • Unlock Democracy questioned 442 councillors on 2 July 2021.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick failed to disclose a meeting set up by Conservative lobbying forum, breaching government-transparency rules

They don’t like transparency, do they! – Owl

  • Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick failed to disclose a meeting with members of the housing industry.
  • The meeting was set up by The Enterprise Forum, a Conservative lobbying forum.
  • Government rules say ministers’ meetings with external organisations must be disclosed.

Henry Dyer

Boris Johnson’s housing secretary failed to disclose a meeting with representatives of the housing industry set up by a top Conservative lobbying forum, Insider can reveal.

Official transparency records published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government contain no detail of such meeting attended by Robert Jenrick, the department’s top minister.

But social media posts by The Enterprise Forum, the lobbying group that set up and attended the meeting, and other attendees show that Jenrick spoke with representatives of the housing industry on March 23 via video call.

Jenrick gave a speech on “the government’s priorities on planning, local infrastructure and housing” before taking questions from attendees.

One attendee said Jenrick set “a new record for how many questions a speaker got through during this roundtable session.” Another attendee said how Jenrick “agreed to engage with our industry” on a matter they had raised in the Q&A.

The Ministerial Code is clear that “Departments will publish quarterly, details of Ministers’ external meetings.”

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by The Enterprise Forum or any other attendees.

Members of the Enterprise Forum can pay more than £2,500 per year for access to meetings set up by the group.

‘Administrative error’

The government say the failure to declare the meeting was an “administrative error.”

A government spokesperson told Insider: “The Secretary of State met with The Enterprise Forum on 23rd March 2021, where he delivered a speech on the Government’s future plans on planning, local infrastructure and housing.

“The transparency return was not declared at the time due to an administrative error by the department, however we are currently working on rectifying this issue and the meeting will be reflected in due course.”

In November 2019, Jenrick had also failed to declare a meeting with a housing-scheme developer, Richard Desmond, who lobbied Jenrick over dinner to fast-track his scheme’s application to save him £50 million.

Other so-called administrative errors by the Department of Health and Social Care saw 27 meetings by a health minister go undeclared for more than a year, Byline Times reported in June.

‘The rules on lobbying are seriously broken’

Susan Hawley, executive director at Spotlight on Corruption, told Insider that there needed to be powers to sanction departments for failing to disclose lobbying meetings.

“There is increasing consensus that the rules on lobbying are seriously broken, and that this is exacerbated by departments abjectly failing to disclose accurate and timely information about who is lobbying who and about what. This is seriously undermining trust and confidence in politicians,” she said.

“Serious consideration needs to be given to an independent regulator to oversee lobbying, with power to impose sanctions on departments for failing to disclose information properly. It should not be left to investigative journalists to ferret out this information, as valuable as that is.”

Rose Whiffen, research officer at Transparency International UK, told Insider that compliance with transparency rules can be “patchy.”

“It is commonplace for government to discuss policy ideas with outside interests, but there should always be full transparency over who gets access to – and potential influence over – decision makers. Ministers are supposed to declare any discussion concerning official business, but compliance can be patchy,” she said.

“There needs to be a comprehensive and consistent approach to transparency declarations across government. The body responsible for ensuring these rules are followed, the Independent Advisor on Ministerial Interests, should be given the power and resources to proactively investigate any failure to comply.”

Devon and Cornwall daily Covid infections still in thousands

More than 2,000 new cases of coronavirus have been reported in the space of two days across Devon and Cornwall, but new infections have started to decrease.

“Enhance your response” (whatever that means) – Owl

Edward Church

In the wake of an unprecedented surge in cases in the two counties which played host to thousands of extra tourists, as well as several festivals, in recent weeks – it remains to be seen if this trend will continue.

Saturday’s figures showed 1,143 new coronavirus cases across the two counties, with 443 in Cornwall, 68 in East Devon, 71 in Exeter, 43 in Mid Devon, 40 in North Devon, 221 in Plymouth, 57 in South Hams, 65 in Teignbridge, 66 in Torbay, 31 in Torridge, 38 in West Devon.

And today (August 29), 1,099 new cases were reported – 369 in Cornwall, 65 in East Devon, 52 in Exeter, 76 in Mid Devon, 82 in North Devon, 190 in Plymouth, 51 in South Hams, 77 in Teignbridge, 89 in Torbay, 34 in Torridge and 14 in West Devon.

While these figures are high, this follows a trend of the week-on-week total of infections beginning to fall.

For five days in a row, the total has decreased across Devon and Cornwall. For Devon alone, this has happened six days in a row now.

Cluster data published on Saturday (August 28) showed seven-day infections still at their worst in Newquay for the week up to August 23, which you can read about here. Having hosted of some 50,000 extra people from Boardmasters Festival, the town remains the Covid hotspot of the UK.

The effect of Boardmasters on the figures is expected to fall in the coming days and weeks.

However, both Devon and Cornwall – including busy tourist town Newquay – have been visited by thousands of extra tourists this bank holiday weekend. The effect of this will be seen in the next week or so.

The majority of new infections have been in the younger age groups – possibly skewed by Boardmasters.

Despite the fall in infections, Devon and Cornwall are still being handed ‘enhanced’ measures to combat Covid. You can read more about what that means here.

As well as this, tourists bosses in Cornwall have told visitors to put off their stay in the county unless they’ve tested negative for the virus.

The vaccine has helped keep hospitalisations and Covid-related deaths low.

Accurate to Friday (August 27), of the adult population, 78.8% in Cornwall, 83.2% in East Devon, 67.9% in Exeter, 81.6% in Mid Devon, 81.3% in North Devon, 73.8% in Plymouth, 80.2% in South Hams, 82.8% in Teignbridge, 78.3% in Torbay, 81.9% in Torridge and 83.4% in West Devon, have had a second dose of a vaccine.

However, while the numbers have come down – some people are still dying with the virus.

As Friday, there had been Devon 12 deaths with Covid in the past seven days, as well as seven in Cornwall, six in Plymouth, and five in Torbay.

Boris Johnson is warning Devon and Cornwall to ‘act responsibility’, but his policies left us in this mess

Wealthy London townies think they are so clever. Stick a Devon or Kernow bumper sticker on their shiny new Range Rovers and us bumpkins on the peninsula will not have a clue you’re a grockle.

By David Parsley

We’re wise to that one in these parts. See a flash car with a local green and white or black and white flag on the back, and we know that’s almost certainly a second homeowner bringing Covid down with them.

We may be the playground for the rich, but the region feels entirely neglected by those politicians that love to frolic among their loaded business friends down here. 

On Friday night health minister Nadine Dorries told local MPs the counties would become an “enhanced response area”. She instructed locals to wear masks and socially distance, while at the same time claiming this did not constitute Covid restrictions. School pupils are likely to be forced to wear masks at school from this week. The hospitals are limiting visiting times and allowing just one relative in at a time. Those sound like restrictions to me, minister.

Before the summer the south-west peninsula had done a remarkable job containing Covid, consistently showing the lowest rates of anywhere in England. Now it’s been put in special measures.

The feeling down here is that we were doing just fine before Boris Johnson insisted on bringing world leaders and 20,000 hangers-on down to Carbis Bay in Cornwall. Following the G7 Summit in June, rates around the areas where Johnson enjoyed a non-socially distanced barbecue with the likes of Presidents Biden, Marcon and Chancellor Merkel rocketed by more than 4,000 per cent. 

Downing Street ordered a Covid risk assessment before that summit, but for some reason it is not keen to share it. I know as I have asked No 10 to produce it on three occasions. Each request has been refused. 

Of course, we will never be sure unless No 10 is forced to publish it, but many may believe its reluctance to do so is because it contained a warning of a sharp rise in Covid cases as a result of the global leaders’ shindig. 

G7 was part one of what is turning out to be a miserable summer for both Devon and Cornwall.

Instead of sticking to the mask wearing and social distancing advice, Johnson went in the opposite direction. He permitted 53,000 largely unvaccinated young adults to mosh together at the Boardmasters music and surfing festival in Newquay earlier this month. 

Not only has this event been linked directly to at least 5,000 Covid cases in Cornwall alone, Public Health England is understood to be investigating whether it has led to a new strain of the more potent Delta variant. Just in time to infect the half a million or so young revellers at this weekend’s festivals such as those at Leeds and Reading. 

As Professor John Drury – one of the Government’s most senior scientific advisors – has told i: “The Government has basically said ‘it’s safe now, it’s fine, you’re not going to die’. The problem is of course that 100 people a day are dying.” 

There’s little doubt down here that Johnson’s determination to unlock has led to Devon and Cornwall’s under resourced health services being stretched to such a level that the army has been called in to help the ambulance service cope. 

Of the mere four main hospitals serving the 1.3 million residents – you can double that in the summer – Cornwall’s only A&E department in Truro is on black alert and people are being begged to call 999 only if we believe it’s a genuine emergency.

In her letter to local MPs on Friday – via which the additional Covid measures were announced rather than to directly to local people – Dorries wrote that Johnson was giving us five weeks to “act responsibly” or face “further restrictions”.

We have been acting responsibly, Prime Minister. We aren’t the ones who gave permission for 20,000 people from all over the world to descend on Carbis Bay for the G7 Summit or thought it was a good idea to infect as many unvaccinated young people as we possibly could in Newquay.

We didn’t unlock the entire country, end all Covid-precautions, or push our health services beyond breaking point. We didn’t do that Mr Johnson. You did.

‘Merry’ Michael Gove seen dancing ‘alone’ in Aberdeen nightclub

Arms aloft, suit jacket on, Michael Gove has been filmed giving it his all in an Aberdeen nightclub after reportedly trying to avoid a £5 entrance fee by stating that he was the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Rajeev Syal 

Footage of the recently separated former Vote Leave supremo throwing shapes at 1.15am at Bohemia nightclub circulated on the internet on Sunday. His hands flailed wildly, and occasionally swung in time to the music, in the clip filmed by a fellow clubber. Friends of Gove denied that he had attempted to avoid paying.

The 54-year-old cabinet minister, who grew up in Aberdeen, was on a trip to see family when he apparently walked into O’Neill’s bar at 1.15am. After last orders were called, Gove was urged by drinkers to join them upstairs at the club Bohemia, where he reportedly stayed until at least 2.30am.

The club night, called Pipe, was described as “an unpredictable mix of the most high-energy UK and global club music scenes”. Adam Taylor, the manager of Pipe, told the Daily Record newspaper that Gove, who had been drinking downstairs, tried to walk past him without paying the entry fee.

“He was saying he shouldn’t have to pay because he is the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I told him that my co-manager, Nina Stanger, was upstairs playing Jungle and going hard. Michael said, ‘I love dancing’ – and did he ever.”

One witness claimed Gove was there by himself. Singer Emma Lament, 30, who had performed an acoustic set earlier in the night, said she “couldn’t believe what she was seeing” when the “merry” MP “rocked up” just before closing time.

She told the Record: “I’m almost sure he was by himself. I heard people saying, ‘He’s a Tory MP.’ Others asked ‘Who’s Michael Gove?’ and were Googling him.” She said Gove was still there at 2.30am, adding: “He really was enjoying himself, I don’t think he left the dance floor the whole time I was there.”

The footage emerged just as the cabinet minister was being tipped to replace Dominic Raab as foreign secretary in a reshuffle later this year or in early 2022.

Gove and the journalist Sarah Vine announced their separation two months ago after 20 years of marriage and are in the process of getting divorced. The pair said they remained close friends and would continue supporting their two children.

A friend of Gove’s confirmed that he had been to the nightclub, but said claims he attempted to avoid paying were not recognised. “He loves Aberdeen and its nightlife,” the friend said.

A statement from the Pipe club said: “Thanks to all the amazing people, and Michael Gove, who made it out for the first Pipe last night. We had a great time going in for four hours straight. Definitely blew some cobwebs away.”

(Address in East Devon) – 2019 election mystery

Parliamentary candidates, on their nomination form, must supply a home address to the Returning Officer. It doesn’t have to be within the constituency. Candidates have an option to ask for this not to be disclosed publicly.

Simon Jupp, unusually, chose not to have his address during the campaign disclosed as can be seen below. None of the other candidates withheld their addresses and Owl cannot recall seeing another example.

Simon Jupp was parachuted into the constituency as the Conservative candidate in the December 2019 general election, following Hugo Swire’s decision not to stand again.

Plymouth born and educated, Simon Jupp, in 2019, was a Special Advisor (SPAD) to Dominc Raab at the time which would have meant needing to live within striking distance of the “Westminster Bubble”.

With Claire Wright tipped to win the constituency as an Independent, having come close second in the previous two elections, one can understand that he mightn’t want to commit to permanent residence whilst campaigning.

The SPAD in him must have thought a “Westminster” address had the wrong look, especially for one with little experience and none as an elected representative.Though not having an East Devon address didn’t seem to hamper his predecessor, Hugo Swire, who had decamped to his manor in mid-Devon years ago.

So, what did he do to gain local residence credibility? Rent a property, an Airbnb perhaps? Or  was he offered the use of the house of one of the many Conservative activists as a “pied-à-terre”?

Whatever it was, either his or his constituency advisors’ political antennae thought it best to keep this East Devon address “secret”.

DCC Leader: Looking forward to the “certainty” of penury?

Devon County Council hopeful for funding settlement

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter 

Devon County Council bosses are hopeful of a three-year funding settlement from the government to help give them ‘certainty’ for the county’s finances.

Council leader John Hart (Conservative, Bickleigh & Wembury), said this financial year’s budget had been one of the “toughest” to set as they only knew in December how much was being provided by Whitehall.

The last two years have seen local authorities only given one-year settlements, with ministers stating Brexit and covid as reasons.

Cllr Hart said: “I would hope the government this time are promising a three-year plan for us, and if they can, then we have a better idea of where we’re going.”

He added: “It would give us a degree of certainty for the next two years after the year that you’re setting your budget. You’ve got a fair idea what the government’s going to give you – that’ll be a minimum figure. So you’ve got something settled, whereas at the present moment you haven’t got anything.

The comments echo those made last month by the county’s cabinet member for finance, Councillor Phil Twiss (Conservative, Feniton & Honiton), who said it was “incredibly hard to plan for one year, whereas previously they’d provide us with a three-year settlement” and revealed the council were lobbying for a return to that arrangement.

Last year, when the government announced another one-year deal for councils, James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Next year we need a three-year settlement and meaningful progress towards a long-term, sustainable solution to the funding crisis our adult social care services continue to face.”

In response, a spokesperson for the ministry of housing, communities and local government said: “The government believes a stable funding environment is pivotal to ensure local councils can effectively plan with early certainty.

“The last two years have had a one-year spending review, prioritising stability and financial certainty so we could focus on delivering EU Exit in 2020-21 and on tackling the pandemic in 2020-2022.

“How government determines its final approach for 2022/23 onwards will be informed by the upcoming spending review, which will be an opportunity to consider local government’s funding needs in the round.”

The leaders of the opposition Liberal Democrat and Labour groups on Devon County Council did not respond to requests for comment.

Breaking News: Hit the brakes, reverse the irreversible, enhance your response!

Devon and Cornwall set for ‘enhanced response measures’ as Covid rates soar

(But do carry on with the pub crawl Simon)

Alex Green

Enhanced response measures are set to be put in place across the South West due to high rates of Covid-19.

As the August Bank Holiday – one of the South West’s busiest times – gets underway, due to high prevalence of the virus in the area, Devon and Cornwall are to receive ‘an enhanced response package’ – subject to sign-off by Number 10.

While no extra restrictions will be put in place, from Friday, measures will be rolled out which will help with support measures for education settings and increased national communications support, clearly outlining the continued risks of Covid-19 and the need to take personal action, such as the wearing of face masks and social distancing.

The response will last for five weeks – but a review will be conducted at week four to determine whether the automatic roll off at week five is appropriate, or if there is a case for re-escalation of further measures.

A letter written by Nadine Dorries and sent to the regions MPs states that following discussions with officials in the relevant South West local authorities they will be identifying the appropriate interventions and will start deploying the enhanced response area measures.

And it states that while the Prime Minister has said we want the whole country to move out of and remain out of these restrictions together, they are trusting people to be responsible and to act with caution and common sense, as they have done throughout this pandemic, and to make decisions about how best to protect themselves and their loved ones, informed by the risks – with a warning that if it doesn’t happen, measures could be ‘re-escalated’.

For the week ending August 22, Cornwall has the highest infection rate in England, with West Devon 3rd, Teignbridge 4th, Torbay 5th, Mid Devon 6th, Torridge 7th, East Devon 9th, Exeter 10th, South Hams 11th, North Devon 12th and Plymouth 13th. Only Sedgemoor (2nd) and Mansfield (8th) are not in Devon and Cornwall.

Luke Pollard, MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, said: “What this basically means is our rates are the highest in the country, and as a result they are kicking in new measures, which is basically a response to those high rates of infection.

“It also allows more communications, community testing, and a bigger push on some the advice such as wearing face masks in schools for instance.”

He added: “This affects all of the South West, but especially the peninsula, because the peninsula has the highest rates. So that’s Devon and Cornwall, Plymouth, South Hams and all the districts.

“It’s partly a reflection on the fact that we’re a tourist destination, partly a reflection on the fact that we didn’t have high levels of Covid during the main outbreak, because we had lower levels, and so there’s less natural immunity built up by people having Covid.

“We do have a good take up of people having the vaccine, so three quarters of the population are fully vaccinate, and despite there being challenges about vaccinating young people, there’s still lots of capacity for young people to come forward and have their vaccine.

“This happens at the point of Bank Holiday weekend, so one of our most important tourist seasons, and I think many tourist businesses will be concerned about this announcement. From my point of view, I want to see everyone follow the guidance and look after themselves.

“Our rate is too high at the moment, and what we mustn’t do is allow the virus to continue to spread at this level, because that puts pressure on our NHS and we’ve already seen at Derriford how we’re effectively on Black Alert.

“It might not feel like the peaks of the pandemic previously, but that doesn’t mean our NHS professionals aren’t being worked into the ground at this moment, and I think it’s a good reminder to say to people ‘please keep yourself safe, please keep others safe, please make sure you’re testing yourself twice a week, make sure you’re getting the vaccine’.”

Kevin Foster, MP for Torbay, added: “Over recent weeks cases have increased in our bay and region, although thanks to the high levels of vaccination across our region the impact is being mitigated. These latest measures are a proportionate response to the situation, including their reminders of what we can all do to help protect our neighbours.”

Full letter from Nadine Dorries

A letter written by Nadine Dorries, and seen by Reach’s titles in Devon and Cornwall, reads: “I am writing to you to inform you of plans, to be announced today, to add all the following South West local authorities to a list of areas receiving an enhanced response package due to high prevalence of COVID -19 in the area: Torbay Council, Plymouth City Council, Devon County Council, East Devon District Council, Exeter City Council, Mid Devon District Council, North Devon District Council, South Hams District Council, Teignbridge District Council, Torridge District Council, West Devon Borough Council, Cornwall Council, Council of the Isles of Scilly.

“In response to Delta now being the dominant strain and the move to Step 4 of the Roadmap, we have reviewed our approach to enhanced response areas, with simplified short-term support to areas where case rates and wider indicators suggest we will see the greatest pressure on the NHS.

“These modifications to enhanced response packages took effect from the 19 July. Guidance regarding extra support deployed in areas receiving an enhanced response to Covid-19 can be found on

As of 18 August, case rates for all ages in the South West were 441 per 100,000 which is above the national case rate of 324 per 100,000. Case rates are increasing across the whole of the South West region with case rates in the 11-16 and 17-21 years age ranges seeing the greatest increases.

“As of 18 August, case rates in the South West for those aged 17-21 was the highest across the country at 1,878 per 100,000 and almost double the national figure of 878 per 100,000. With regards to vaccination, 76% of the total population has been fully vaccinated, receiving two doses.

“As a region, the South West has the highest case rates nationally, with only a handful of areas below the national average. The proposed UTLAs of Devon, Cornwall, Plymouth, Torbay and Isles of Scilly have some of the highest case rates rises above the national average.

“The 7-day case rate per 100,000 population increases for West Devon is 157%, for South Hams it is 122% and for Isles of Scilly it is 400%.

“The enhanced response area package will help with support measures for education settings and increased national communications support, clearly outlining the continued risks of Covid-19 and the need to take personal action, such as the wearing of face masks and social distancing.

“Additionally, prioritised access to Wastewater testing, sequencing, national contact tracing capacity and national support with messaging will also be supported. I recognise the excellent work that Local Authorities have been doing, for a sustained period of time to manage the pandemic in their area. The enhanced response package is a short-term measure.

“Areas designated as enhanced response will automatically roll off after five weeks of receiving the enhanced support, a review will be conducted at week four to determine whether the automatic roll off at week five is appropriate, or if there is a case for re-escalation.

“Following discussions with officials in the relevant South West local authorities we will be identifying the appropriate interventions and will start deploying the enhanced response area measures from Friday 27 August 2021.

“As the Prime Minister has said we want the whole country to move out of and remain out of these restrictions together. We are trusting people to be responsible and to act with caution and common sense, as they have done throughout this pandemic, and to make decisions about how best to protect themselves and their loved ones, informed by the risks.

“I’m sure you will continue to reinforce that message locally and would like to again thank you and the efforts of residents locally.

“Thank you for your support in stopping the spread of COVID-19 – including concerning variants – to protect the NHS, and save lives.”

Plymouth hospital declares critical incident over bed shortages

A Plymouth hospital has declared a critical incident over bed shortages as its emergency department becomes overrun by coronavirus cases. 

A spokesperson for University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, which runs Derriford Hospital near Devon, said that the service is experiencing its highest rate of Covid-19 occupancy of the virus’s third wave.

The critical incident declaration means that all hospital departments must focus on tackling the problem. Already, bed capacity has been reconfigured to try to meet the demand of patients with and without Covid-19.

The hospital has also cancelled routine surgery appointments and temporarily banned visitors to try to prevent the virus being spread.

Jo Beer, Chief Operating Officer at UHP, said: “The incident was declared due to high bed occupancy and a sustained high level of emergency department attendance converting into an above-average level of admission.

“We are experiencing our highest level of Covid occupancy of the third wave and expect this to increase further – as a result we have reconfigured our bed capacity to manage both Covid and non-Covid capacity, but this needs continual review.”

Paul McArdle, Deputy Medical Director at UHP, said that the increase in Covid-19 hospitalisations reflects a “pattern that we’re seeing right across the country”, but added that it has been “compounded by a recent surge in Covid prevalence in our community”.

In a video message shared by UHP, he said: “We’d just like to inform patients that we’re currently experiencing high levels of attendance in our Emergency Department and in association with that, quite long waits.”

“For instance, last night we had I think about 130 patients present in our Emergency Department at 11 o’clock in the evening when we’d expect things to be a lot quieter.”

Covid-19 case rates are currently rising in all English regions except London and Yorkshire & the Humber, according to Public Health England.

Music festivals such as Boardmasters Festival in Cornwall and Latitude Festival in Suffolk have recently been blamed for coronavirus outbreaks.

Coronavirus: Waning immunity and rising cases – time to worry?

A month ago, coronavirus cases were falling and the lifting of nearly all restrictions looked like it had been a success.

Nick Triggle

But just weeks later, infections levels are rising again, with more than 30,000 new cases being confirmed each day, and there is growing evidence immunity through vaccination is waning.

How worrying is waning immunity?

Immunity through vaccination was always expected to wane.

Two studies – one based on data from the Zoe Covid Study app and another from Oxford University – suggest this may now be beginning several months after the second dose.

Chart shows fall i n protection against infection for Pfizer and AstraZeneca

Although it is also possible something else is at play here. The apparent drop in effectiveness could be related to the fact people are likely to be repeatedly exposed to the virus as time passes, increasing the opportunities for the virus to break through the immune system’s defences.

Either way this illustrates, once again, why we need to get used to Covid circulating.

Experts have been clear we should expect to be infected repeatedly over our lifetimes.

But each reinfection should be milder than the previous one.

And, for most, even those early infections will be milder than they would have been, because the vaccines remain highly effective at preventing serious illness.

The “good news”, Prof Adam Finn, of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), says, is the vaccines, having effectively taken the edge off the virus by giving our immune system a head start, are still working very well.

How worrying are rising cases?

When infection rates started to fall in mid-July, scientists said we should not expect a continuous drop like we had seen during the lockdowns.

Instead, the modellers predicted a period when infection levels would bob around – a series of mini-peaks.

That seems to be exactly what is happening now, with infection rates climbing but only gradually.

Chart showing that the number of daily cases has seen a slight rise recently

Experts believe we have effectively reached an equilibrium whereby small changes – either in immunity across the population or behaviour and the number of contacts people have – can make the difference between infection levels rising or falling.

How worrying are local hotspots?

The national picture can mask what is happening locally. And parts of the country are seeing significant spikes in infections. In places such as Cumbria, Cornwall and Devon, tourism has been cited as a factor.

And health chiefs are urging people to:

  • think twice before visiting
  • be cautious
  • use rapid swab tests to check if they are carrying the virus

But there is also an acknowledgement our approach and attitude to Covid needs to change too.

About 4,700 cases have been linked to a festival in Newquay, Cornwall.

But local councillor and emergency doctor Andy Virr says the Boardmasters festival was held in the knowledge this could happen and he is reassured the cases are not translating into serious illness.

There are “no regrets” about allowing the festival, he adds, as it brought people a lot of joy.

But this, of course, does not mean we should abandon all caution.

There are other reasons some areas are seeing a spike in cases.

And in parts of Northern Ireland, with low vaccine uptake and high deprivation cited as factors, doctors say too many people remain at significant risk.

How worrying is the autumn?

Overall, the number of people dying remains very low compared with previous waves – showing just how effective the vaccines have been.

At this point in the winter wave, there were 10 times more Covid deaths than there are now.

Chart showing that the number of Covid deaths remains low

More than 100 people a day on average are still dying with the virus.

But during a bad winter, 300 to 400 people a day can die from flu.

The big unknown – and the thing causing government scientists most concern – is what will happen in the autumn.

Prof Mike Tildesley, an infectious disease modeller at the University of Warwick, says September will be the crucial moment, when schools are back and people return to work.

“August is such an odd month,” he says, “it makes interpreting what is happening more difficult.

“In September, normal behaviour and contact levels return.”

And if the signs from Scotland are right – the holiday season has already ended and cases are rising sharply – there could be quite a jump.

“We are already at quite a high base level in terms of infection,” Prof Tildesley says.

“So if they go up across the board from here and that translates to a rise in hospital cases, there could be problems.”

But there are no guarantees that will happen – especially if we are truly close to an equilibrium whereby the levels of immunity in the population can keep the virus at bay.

“The truth is we just don’t know,” Prof Tildesley says. “And it will probably be the end of September before we can say with any certainty.”

Attempt to force release of Johnson’s messages on Covid in care homes fails

The government has successfully resisted disclosure of potentially explosive WhatsApp messages between ministers and Boris Johnson about decisions to send hospital patients into care homes without first testing them for Covid.

[The High Court has now listed the final hearing of Cathy Gardner’s claim. This will commence on 19 October 2021 and is likely to last for three days. – Owl]

Robert Booth 

Two bereaved women whose fathers died from Covid in care homes that received infected NHS patients in April and May 2020 asked the high court to force disclosure of the texts, as well as emails sent from a private account by the then health secretary, Matt Hancock.

But Mrs Justice Eady ruled the government did not need to provide them in evidence for a judicial review of the legality of the government’s care home policy.

Discharging hospital patients into care homes without testing caused “thousands, if not tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths”, the bereaved argued.

Dr Cathy Gardner, one of the women who claim the care homes policy breached human rights laws and discriminated against the elderly and disabled, described the decision to block the release of potentially “highly significant” informal communications as “very disappointing”. They are considering an appeal.

Dominic Cummings, the PM’s former aide, has already published excerpts from WhatsApp messages with the PM about Hancock, including one where Johnson described Hancock’s testing strategy as “totally fucking hopeless”.

Lawyers for Gardner and her fellow claimant, Faye Harris, claimed crucial advice “was given via informal channels, text messages, WhatsApps, personal emails”. Without its disclosure the truth about what the government knew about the risks of discharging would remain hidden, they said.

Government lawyers argued that demands for extensive disclosure amounted to an attempt to conduct a public inquiry through the courts.

Sir James Eadie QC described the informal messages as “chit chat” and said they were “unlikely [to] contain materials of relevance”.

The court also ruled that the government did not need to release records of a meeting between the prime minister and Hancock at which, Cummings told MPs in May, the health secretary promised patients would be tested before being discharged into homes. Hancock subsequently denied that, saying he pledged instead to increase testing capacity.

The bereaved also wanted to see advice from England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, and the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, to ministers about protecting care homes, plus evidence of what was known about the risk of asymptomatic transmission and the limits on testing capacity.

The ruling comes amid rising pressure on the UK government to announce the terms of reference for the public inquiry, after the Scottish government said on Tuesday its would be established by the end of the year.

The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, which represents more than 4,000 bereaved families, is separately seeking Hancock’s private emails under the Freedom of Information Act and a response to its request is weeks overdue. On Thursday the group marked a year of waiting since Johnson said he would meet the families.

A government spokesperson said: “As the prime minister said, we have committed to holding a full public inquiry which will start in the spring. Terms of reference will be set out in good time for the inquiry to begin, and we will consult with bereaved families and others before they are finalised.”

Volunteers may be required in staffing shortfall at English care homes

An army of volunteers could be needed this winter to tackle rising staff shortages in care homes fuelled by the looming requirement for all care home workers to be fully vaccinated against coronavirus, providers have said.

Robert Booth 

As the health secretary, Sajid Javid, urged care workers to book their jabs in time to meet the 11 November deadline for all staff in registered care homes in England to be fully vaccinated, the Independent Care Group said operators could be forced to hand back contracts to councils or close care homes and relocate residents because of a staffing crisis, exacerbated by ongoing vaccine hesitancy among a minority of staff. It is leading calls for retired nurses, doctors, carers, to be trained and DBS-checked to fill vacancies in case of a feared “winter meltdown” in staff numbers.

One in five workers on the books of a care worker agency in Sheffield are declining the vaccine, according to Nicola Richards, the director of Palms Row Healthcare. She also reported an “alarming” drop in the number of workers signing up, with many put off by the “no jab, no job” policy. She has been unable to provide temporary staff to some clients in recent weeks.

The government last month calculated that in a worst-case scenario as many as 68,000 care workers – up to 12% – could be lost as a result of the decision to make vaccination a condition of employment in care homes. A more likely prediction is 40,000, but care managers say that even small numbers of people refusing the vaccine will impact services because rotas are already threadbare, with well over 100,000 vacancies in the sector.

A survey at the weekend of care home managers by the Institute of Health and Social Care Management found 58% of operators believed they would have to lay off at least some staff by 11 November based on current rates of vaccination. More than a quarter (28%) of the 681 care operators who responded said they had already lost up to five staff. Three said they had lost more than 20 each.

Job adverts seeking replacements sometimes produce no applicants for posts that are highly demanding but pay on average just £8.50 an hour. Calls for a cash boost from the government to increase wages have so far gone unheeded. Post-Brexit restrictions on recruiting abroad had also compounded problems, operators said.

“We need some urgent funding to be put in place, like the government did with infection control, to enable providers to address pay within the sector and help them to recruit, because staff shortages are now becoming critical,” said Mike Padgham, the chair of the Independent Care Group. “Just when we need to recruit more people, [the government] put a block on it. It is like you are having to fight the pandemic and the government at the same time.”

HC-One, the largest private provider, is this week writing to all unvaccinated staff urging them to get their first jab by 16 September.

“It’s absolutely terrifying to think of what we have with winter pressure coming,” said Richards, who operates two care homes. “Over the last four weeks we have seen the staff challenges we had last April when we were hit hard [by the first wave of the pandemic].”

Workers were still citing beliefs over the vaccines’ impact on fertility, but Richards said many were refusing because they objected to social care being the only part of the health system where vaccination was being made a condition of employment. The latest available data, from June, showed that in London almost a quarter of staff were completely unvaccinated while across England the figure was 16%.

Richards called for the government to ease rules on recruitment from abroad after her fast-track application to bring in workers from countries like India was rejected. She will have to wait up to 12 weeks to find out if she can fill vacancies internationally.

On Monday Javid said in a message to care operators that vaccination “remains the most important tool for protecting your physical health and the health of the people you care for”. He said: “The ‘vaccination as a condition of deployment’ grace period ends 11 November this year, so if you haven’t booked your first or second dose, please do so as soon as you can.”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “It is our responsibility to do everything we can to reduce the risk for the most vulnerable and, following extensive public consultation, we have taken an approach that reflects the experiences and concerns of both providers and people living and working in care homes.

“We continue to work with the care sector to encourage all adult social care staff to get vaccinated in local areas where vaccine uptake is lower so care homes are able to comply with the new regulations.”

Holidaymakers urged to get Covid test before visiting Devon

A report last night pointed out that the Covid infection rates in the whole of Cornwall and in parts of Devon are now higher than some “red” list countries! – Owl

Holidaymakers visiting the English Riviera are being urged to take a lateral flow test before they arrive as ‘Covid-19 has not gone on holiday’.

Daniel Clark

While visitors to Torbay and Devon are being welcomed by tourist boards, local authorities, and public health teams, a request has been made to make sure that anyone taking a trip doesn’t bring Covid-19 with them.

Rates in Devon are among the very highest in England, with all ten districts inside the top 14 of the 315 lower tier local authority areas, and neighbouring Cornwall at the very top of the list.

Mike Wade, Deputy Regional Director and NHS Regional Director of Public Health from Public Health England South West, told a media briefing on Wednesday that ‘Covid-19 has not gone on holiday’ and anyone with symptoms should be staying at home and getting tested.

And a spokesman to Torbay Council confirmed that they were joining other authorities who had asked anyone visiting the region to take a lateral flow test before doing so.

They said: “We welcome holidaymakers back into Torbay this summer and need everyone to play their part in keeping the area safe for us all.

“We urge everyone to get both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. If potential visitors develop symptoms suggestive of Covid-19 or are a close contact of a confirmed case we advise them not to travel until they have a negative PCR test. As with Torbay residents, we recommend visitors take twice weekly lateral flow (LFD) tests and do a test before travelling.

“Everyone is urged to wear a face covering in enclosed and crowded places, and to respect requests by business owners to do so. Please make space and check in with the Covid-19 app when visiting venues.

“Visitors can find information on where to collect LFD tests while visiting or book a PCR test if they develop symptoms or are identified as a close contact of a positive case, on our website at”

The Cornish tourist board had already asked holidaymakers not to visit without taking a Covid test, amid a rise in cases in the county.

Chief executive of Visit Cornwall Malcolm Bell told the PA news agency: “We are asking people not to come unless they have booked ahead and request they take a lateral flow test before, during and after (their) stay so that (people) can be safe and help us to manage the current spike.”

At the briefing, Mr Wade added: “Covid-19 has not gone on holiday and with a bank holiday and day-trippers, they need to protect themselves and others from Covid-19. Visitors should take a Lateral Flow Test before setting off, and if you have symptoms, you should be staying home and not travelling and close contacts should be encouraged to get a PCR test.

“Visitors should avoid queuing and pre-booking ahead for the activities that they want to do and pre-planning is important. We want visitors to know what to do if they become ill – where to get a PCR test, where they can self-isolate, or how to get home safely if they need to – and to wear face masks in busy indoor settings and to meet people outdoors if possible.”

He added that there had been a large influx of people to the region – ‘more than we expect to see in a normal season’ – and that people were opting to come to the South West rather than going overseas, and that rates were high in popular holiday destinations as a result of the mix of susceptible population and visitors driving up the rates.

And he said that it might not be for a further few weeks and when the holiday season is over before the high rates begin to reduce back down.

He added: “There will be a lag from when we start to see the impact and move out of the seasonal swell. We will see a slow down before a plateau, but then will probably see another spike as the young people take LFTs before going back to school, as rates are high in the 15-19s at the moment.

“We will see some turbulence but hopefully come mid-September we will start to see a stronger decline, but it is so hard to predict at the moment.”

Devon County Council added that they have throughout the summer months run a targeted social media campaign aimed at visitors/holidaymakers travelling into the county.

A spokesman added: “Those messages talk about the importance of taking regular lateral flow tests if asymptomatic (and point to our website for details of how and where they’re available), as well as the importance of wearing face coverings when indoors in public places; meeting outside where possible; and washing hands regularly.

“We’ve considered the impact of our messaging, and have not gone so far as to request holiday makers to take lateral flow tests before they come to Devon.”

Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon, added: “We’re now seeing case rates rising again nationally. There are regional fluctuations, but the highest case rates are here in the South West.

“What we’re seeing now is not unexpected – with the removal of most restrictions and the opening up of opportunities for socialisation, positive cases are going to rise. Case rates are similarly high in other parts of the country that are popular to visit and where there’s a lot of socialisation, such as Blackpool, Isle of White, Bournemouth and Brighton.

“We should do everything we can to reduce the risk of transmission, to protect ourselves, our friends and families, but while people are not becoming as ill with the virus as they were, it’s a case of continuing to monitor the situation closely, and to be able to act quickly in response to any outbreaks of concern.”

It comes as all 10 areas of Devon have infection rates within the top 14 nationally at a lower tier authority level.

Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has England’s highest infection rate for the seven-day period up until August 20.

Sedgemoor sits second, with West Devon 3rd, Teignbridge 4th, Torbay 5th, South Hams 6th, Mid Devon 8th, East Devon 9th, Exeter 10th, Torridge 11th, North Devon 13th and Plymouth 14th.

EDDC: two “rotten apples” in just eight years

In March 2013, Cllr. Graham Brown, Chair of East Devon Business Forum,  was uncovered by a Telegraph sting offering to get planning permission for cash. Last week former Mayor of Exmouth and recent town and district councillor until 2019, now alderman John Humphreys, was jailed for 21 years for serious sexual assaults dating back to the 1990s.

Whether or not a rotten apple taints the barrel, depends on how quickly and assiduously those in charge act to root out the problem, investigate and learn any lessons.

What those in authority have to demonstrate is integrity, transparency and candour. The long term reputation of the organisation depends on this.

Graham Brown 2013

In the case of Brown, he was thrown out of the Conservative party and, after a short delay, he resigned from the then Conservative controlled East Devon District Council (EDDC).

However, his case raised issues of corruption and how widespread that might have been. The “masterly inactivity” of the then Tory District Council in investigating his case is chronicled in this East Devon Watch post, published on the first anniversary of the Telegraph story breaking. 

 A police investigation eventually started after a 15 month delay, but fizzled out in November 2014 when Mark Williams reported to councillors in an e-mail of 12.11.2014 that the investigation “hasn’t identified (anything) worth pursuing”.

Just after that, at a meeting of the EDDC overview and scrutiny committee Tony Hogg, the then Conservative Police & Crime Commissioner spent an hour and a half batting away questions on the slowness of the police response.

“Nothing to see here” would seem to be a good summary of this episode. How can anyone have confidence in an organisation whose “Top Team” appeared, by inaction, to condone such behaviour? 

Perhaps this episode marked the point at which the Tories began to lose control of EDDC.

John Humphreys 2021

In the case of Humphrey, so far there is a distinct contrast. Cllr. Ian Thomas (independent) as Chair of the “New Guard” EDDC has issued a statement (24 August) extending his, and the council’s, sympathy to the two victims. He also said, regarding the honour of “Alderman” bestowed on Humphreys in December 2019:

 “In view of Mr Humphreys conviction and offences, I do not believe he is a fit person to hold this honour.

I will therefore be convening an Extraordinary General Meeting at 6pm on Tuesday 7 September with the sole recommendation being that the honour is withdrawn forthwith.

This will be the first time any such step will have been taken and recognises the gravity of his crimes.”

But in this case, as with Brown, there have been unexplained delays in the police investigation.

Humphreys was brought to justice by a long and complicated police investigation which started when the second victim told his girlfriend and mother of the abuse in 2005, some four four years after it happened.

Police took a statement but did not prosecute at the time.

In a victim impact statement, he said he had bad feelings against the police at the time and felt Humphreys ‘had been favoured because of his political connections’.

The case was reopened in 2015, ten years later, when the first victim came forward, telling officers that he was making his disclosures after 25 years of psychological trauma and sleepless nights.

It is to the credit of the District Crown Prosecutor and police investigating officer (who, as has been pointed out by Tim Todd, are women) that the case was successfully pursued.

Questions remain

But questions remain. Who decided to drop these cases?   And what links might they have had – or still have –  and what roles did they have in common with other people who may also have had council roles or links during that time? Who during this long period of time was made aware of decisions taken by the police? 


The picture painted by Sasha Swire and others is that Humphreys was a very political person, well connected and active within the local Conservative party. This would have given him all sorts of power, access and influence.

So far Owl has failed to find any mention of the case or expression of sympathy to the victims on Simon Jupp’s twitter account. Perhaps he has been waiting for EDDC to make the first move. Nor has Owl found any mention on the East Devon Conservative association website. Is Humphreys still a member? 

Headline of the day: ‘With hindsight, I wouldn’t have gone on holiday’

Dominic Raab also says ‘with benefit of hindsight’ he would have come home from holiday earlier.

“Hindsight is a wonderful thing but foresight is better, especially when it comes to saving life, or some pain!” – William Blake

(Also judgement. It seems Dominic Raab lacks both foresight and judgement – Owl) 

Chicken and chips crisis shows normality is some distance away

First there were empty supermarket shelves and “pingdemic” staff shortages; now Nando’s is out of chicken and the car industry short of chips. It’s an unusual state of affairs for a country where normality was supposed to resume a month ago.

Richard Partington 

After the lifting of most pandemic restrictions on the government’s 19 July “freedom day”, the long hard slog of Covid-19 was meant to be all over bar the shouting. Britain’s economic potential would be unleashed, allowing for the fastest growth since the second world war.

Significant progress has indeed been made. Far from the jobs crisis forecast at the onset of Covid-19, unemployment is falling and businesses have survived, helped by billions of pounds of government support.

Yet in this new version of normality, substantial challenges remain, as the initial buzz from the reopening of shops, pubs and restaurants begins to fade.

Retail sales suffered an unexpected fall in July, while Bank of England figures for credit and debit card transactions – covering the full gamut of sales in hospitality, travel and other services in addition to retail – show consumption has plateaued.

Confident forecasts for an unprecedented boom in consumer spending, fuelled by more than £200bn of household savings built up during lockdown, feel wide of the mark after most Covid restrictions ended – the supposed moment for their release.

So why is Britain only managing to muddle through? Listen to government ministers and a telling tonal shift offers a clue. Earlier this year, the hope had been that Covid could be beaten with the help of vaccines. But there is now a growing realisation that persistently high cases fuelled by the Delta variant, and high infection rates in other countries where vaccination rates are lower, mean normality remains some distance away. As the health secretary, Sajid Javid, is now fond of saying, we must “learn to live with Covid”.

For this reason, economic disruption related to the pandemic is likely to remain for longer than anticipated. Which brings us back to the problems with chicken and chips.

Peri-peri chicken wings became the latest casualty of Covid-related upheaval last week because Nando’s is struggling with staffing problems at its suppliers’ factories, as well as shortages of lorry drivers holding back deliveries.

Toyota said this week it would be forced to reduce global production in September by 40% owing to shortages of microchips around the world. Other car manufacturers, including Ford, Nissan, Honda and Jaguar Land Rover – Britain’s biggest carmaker – have also scaled back production for similar reasons.

In a sign of how the pandemic must be beaten globally before the UK and other economies can declare a return to normal, Toyota pinned the blame mostly on outbreaks in south-east Asia leading to delays in the delivery of components.

Opponents of Brexit have been quick to blame Britain leaving the EU for empty supermarket shelves and supply chain disruption. But many of the trends are international, with driver shortages evident in several countries. German companies are struggling and most expect such problems to persist into next year.

That said, erecting tougher trade barriers during an international supply meltdown is far from a bright idea. Politically motivated trade restrictions reduce the possibility of solutions being found and are indeed making a bad situation worse.

Against this backdrop, supply chain disruption risks feeding through to the price of goods in the shops. The Bank of England expects inflation to reach 4% this year as the economy reopens with supply constraints still dogging businesses – far higher than originally expected at the start of this year.

For several months Threadneedle Street has attempted to reassure us that this inflationary burst will prove temporary. There are good reasons for this, with much of the inflation rise down to the fact that a broad range of consumer prices fell sharply during the first lockdown. The measure for the cost of living is calculated using the annual change in the price of a basket of goods and services. It’s hardly surprising the only way is up after the catastrophe of 2020.

In one example, average petrol were 132.6p per litre in July 2021, compared with 111.4p a year earlier, a rise of 19%. But compared with January 2020 – before Covid sent global oil prices into a tailspin – petrol prices are just 4% higher.

Meanwhile, analysts believe inflationary pressures should fade as Covid disruption recedes. But if countries key to global supply networks face prolonged challenges due to slower progress with vaccinations, and if Delta means more disruption in the UK, how long might this “temporary” period prove?

With the world economy suffering Covid for longer than expected, analysts at NatWest believe it could take until late 2022 for elevated supply chain costs to fade. These pressures will prompt serious questions for how big central banks, including the Bank of England, plan to respond to prolonged periods of transitory inflation.

At this point, the evidence is that further pressure is looming. The Baltic dry index, the shipping industry’s bellwether, which measures the average prices paid for the transport of dry bulk materials across more than 20 routes, has hit a 10-year high in recent weeks in a sign of the mounting costs facing companies.

Though inflation fell back slightly in July, official figures show UK manufacturers are being hit by higher fuel and raw material costs. Industry’s input prices rose by 9.9% in the year to July, up from 9.7% in June. Labour market vacancy rates have hit record highs as many companies struggle to find enough workers.

Not all of these costs will be passed on to consumers. Companies fear they will lose customers if they jack up prices too far, and will allow profit margins to take some of the hit instead. And goods shortages do not always lead to inflation – sales may be forgone rather than prices raised – as evidenced by an unexpected fall in sales of electrical goods in July amid supply chain disruption.

However, supply disruption is the early signal of what living with Covid might look like. Rather than simply encouraging the nation to adapt, ministers need to do a lot more to tackle the economic consequences.

Boris Johnson broke ministerial code jetting to the Hartlepool by-election on taxpayer funds, Conservative Party spending return suggests

  • The Conservative Party spending return says it spent £0 on transport for the Hartlepool by-election.
  • But Boris Johnson flew to the area for an official visit and to campaign.
  • The Ministerial Code says travel costs for official and political visits must be split between the government and the party.

Henry Dyer 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson used taxpayer funds to campaign in the Hartlepool by-election, breaching the Ministerial Code, a copy of the Conservative Party’s spending return suggests.

The spending return, which was obtained by Insider, outlined the costs of the campaign, which the Conservatives won.

On April 1, five days after the regulated period for the by-election started — during which spending in support of a candidate must be declared — Johnson flew by private jet from London Stansted to Teesside International Airport, near Middlesbrough. 

Johnson travelled in a motorcade from the airport to Middlesbrough, where he conducted official government business promoting a rise in the minimum wage at the DIY store B&Q. 

He was then driven to Hartlepool, where he met with the Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer for a visit to the local company Hart Biologicals, supporting her campaign in the constituency. The pair then visited a nearby housing estate for doorknocking, leafleting, and speaking to residents, the Hartlepool Mail reported.

That afternoon, Johnson flew back from Teesside International Airport to Stansted.

‘Transport: Nil’

None of the costs of Johnson’s travel by plane or car appear to be included in the spending return, which says the candidate spent nothing on transport.

Summary of Conservative Party expenditures in the Hartlepool by-election.Conservative Party

Electoral Commission guidance says transport costs should include the cost of transporting “party members, including staff members […] around the electoral area, or to and from the electoral area […] where they are undertaking campaigning on behalf of the candidate.”

Parties can spend up to £100,000 in by-elections. The Conservatives say they spent a total of £86,991.77.

The Ministerial Code says ministers “must not use government resources for Party political purposes.” It also says that “where a visit is a mix of political and official engagements, it is important that the department and the Party each meet a proper proportion of the actual cost.”

The spending return, signed by Mortimer and her election agent, Diane Clarke OBE, suggests the party did not pay for any of the cost of Johnson’s journey to Hartlepool on April 1. 

The spending return also shows that all campaign expenditure was run through Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ).

None of the expenditure listed in a separate document provided by CCHQ to Clarke is stated to relate to the cost of transport, or to a portion of travel costs:

An invoice produced by Conservative Campaign Headquarters showing a spending breakdown.The Conservative Party

Unlike other parties’ returns, the Conservatives do not provide invoices from the suppliers, only a single invoice of purchases made centrally by CCHQ.

A Conservative Party spokesperson told Insider: “Tours and associated costs […] were all declared in accordance with the rules and feature on the return under ‘Staff Costs.'”

“All candidate election expenses were included in the return made in accordance with the Representation of the People Act by the candidate’s agent,” they added.

The Conservative Party did not respond to Insider’s requests for evidence that the £24,154.02 staff costs included transportation, in addition to the cost of paying for party staff to work on the six-week campaign.

The party also did not respond to a request to see an invoice showing a repayment of transport costs to the Cabinet Office. The Cabinet Office did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for invoices showing repayment of transport costs from the Conservative Party.

For comparison, the Labour Party’s return for its Hartlepool campaign says it spent £32,665.11 on staff costs, plus an additional £8929.50 on transport.

This amount is closer to the spending of staff costs by the Conservative Party in two other by-elections held this year: In Chesham and Amersham, the Conservatives spent £32,246.42 on staff costs, while in Batley and Spen they spent £33,773.34.

Johnson did not fly to campaign in either Chesham and Amersham or Batley and Spen, according to flight data.

Further visits were made by Johnson to Hartlepool on April 23 and May 3, and by Home Secretary Priti Patel on April 29. Johnson and Patel campaigned with and for Mortimer on all of these occasions. 

Labour calls for an investigation

The Labour Party is demanding an investigation into a breach of the Ministerial Code by Johnson. 

Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s deputy leader, told Insider: “Yet again the Prime Minister behaves like the rules don’t apply to him. Taxpayers’ money should not be abused to fund the Conservative Party’s election campaigns.

“The Prime Minister has clearly broken the Ministerial Code, and this time he can’t play ignorant and pretend that he didn’t know what was going on.

“The contempt with which the Prime Minister treats the laws governing election expenses and the rules that are supposed to uphold standards in our public life shows that he is only ever interested in helping himself, not acting in the interests of the British people.”

Rayner has written to Lord Geidt, the prime minister’s independent advisor on ministerial standards, and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, the UK’s most senior civil servant, demanding to know if public funds were used for party political campaigning by the prime minister.

In her letter, seen by Insider, Rayner says that Johnson cannot pretend he was unaware of the expenditure.

“Given the Prime Minister clearly walked himself up the steps onto his taxpayer-funded plane, and walked himself around Hartlepool talking to voters during a party political visit during a by-election campaign, this excuse can clearly not be used on this occasion,” the letter says.

“I trust that in the course of your inquiry you will also refer any evidence of illegal and criminal behaviour in breach of the Representation of the People Act in relation to the non-declaration of election expenses and donations in kind, the submission of false returns and any other wrongdoing.”

A Downing Street spokesperson told Insider: “The Prime Minister visited Teesside on official Government business, meeting workers to coincide with an increase in the national living wage. This was followed by a short political visit, as permitted by the Ministerial Code.

“All relevant costs have been correctly accounted for and appropriately proportioned. At all times Government rules and electoral requirements have been followed in relation to Ministerial visits.”

Downing Street pointed to section 10.16 of the Ministerial Code, which says the Prime Minister “may use their official cars for all journeys by road, including those for private or Party purposes.”

Got a tip? If you have information about spending in by-elections, please email the author at We can keep sources anonymous.

M5 blockade protest in Devon cancelled

Plans to block the M5 junction for Tiverton and motorists heading to North Devon have been cancelled after the idea sparked controversy.

Ami Wyllie

North Devon and Torridge Housing Crisis campaigner Emma Hookway proposed the plans to highlight the plight of many residents in the region struggling to find a home.

She posted her plans to blockage junction 27 at 5pm on Friday (August 27) in her housing crisis Facebook group and asked for support co-ordinating the event.

Immediately, people raised concerns and advised Emma to cancel the event, but she insisted that half an hour was all that was needed to make a dramatic statement.

Emma said: “Half an hour guys, that’s all I’m asking.

“Half an hour to let the rest of the UK know what is happening to you.”

However, after further criticism towards the idea, Emma cancelled the event due to the backlash she received, but asked for help coming up with new ideas.

In the North Devon and Torridge Housing Crisis group, she wrote: “It seems that the group was mostly against the junction 27 idea and I respect that.

“Therefore, what should we do next to keep the momentum going?”

Emma told Devon Live: “I don’t want to do something drastic, but I want to create an event that gets people to acknowledge what’s happening.”

It’s property – not coronavirus – that is emerging as the hottest topic in Devon now the dreadful pandemic rumbles towards its conclusion.

Several commenters raised concerns over the safety of a protest like this.

One person asked: “Could this not potentially cause accidents?

“Blocking a motorway junction doesn’t sound like a safe idea to me.”

She went on to warn: “I think this is potentially dangerous, on the junction of two roads that are incredibly dangerous as is.”

Other commenters were worried about the traffic implications on the last Friday of the school holidays, which doubles as a bank holiday.

They thought that blocking J27 would be counter productive to getting politician’s and the general public on side.

One person said: “Lobby your council representatives and your MP.

“Action like this will only turn people against your concerns.”

Another wrote: “When the traffic is already bad, a half hour hold up is an issue, especially when you have young children in the car.

“It doesn’t make sense, you want local’s help, yet you are making the local’s lives a nightmare.”

Someone else said: “What about locals going away?

“I’ll be travelling up north for the weekend next Friday.

“We have already postponed our wedding three times and our 10th anniversary once.

“Not knocking the sentiment, but I’d rather this time we just had a smooth run.”

Meanwhile, others raised concerns about the access route to larger hospitals.

Lewis Clarke wrote: “As somebody who has just returned from hospital with a poorly baby and used that route several times over the course of visiting Musgrove, I cannot help but feel for all those people in similar situations who would be help up because of something like this.”

Another wrote: “Not a cool idea. People use this route to access Bristol Royal Infirmary.”

Some argued that as the blockade would be on the Southbound carriageway, it would not interfere with people travelling North to Bristol.

However, it was pointed out that the return journey from the hospital would be impacted.

One person shared a personal anecdote: “Two years ago I travelled that road twice a day for a week to visit my husband who was in Bristol Royal ICU.”

In a separate comment, she added: “I drove that road having left my husband in BRI with malaria wondering if I would see him again.

“But I needed to get to my children who I hadn’t seen for four days with thoughts in my head wondering if I would be taking them to say goodbye to their daddy.

“That was my return journey.”

Not everyone was against the idea of a road block, some group members thought J27 might be too extreme, but suggested local roads in North Devon or council run car parks as an alternative.

Someone suggested: “Find local council meetings and block their car parks.

“Much better to inconvenience the people who make decisions.”

One person compared it to similar drastic action that rocketed campaigners into the public eye.

They wrote: “It’s about awareness though, people need to sit up and listen.

“Look at Extinction Rebellion and BLM, you would not even know who they were unless they took extreme measures.”

A similar protest was proposed in Cornwall, as locals facing a similar fight against second home owners and a surge in rental prices threatened to form a human barrier across the A30 into the county.

Emma is currently working on another plan to raise awareness for the North Devon housing crisis and will be holding a meeting at the Castle Centre in Barnstaple on 2 September at 7pm.