Claire Wright’s blocking by Simon Jupp, the row escalates

He doesn’t seem to be able to handle challenge. – Owl

Former councillor criticises East Devon MP Simon Jupp for blocking Facebook comments

Joe Ives, Local Democracy Reporter 

A former East Devon politician has accused the area’s MP of attempting to “censor” residents after blocking comments on his Facebook page.

Ex-Devon County Councillor (DCC) Claire Wright says Simon Jupp MP’s (Conservatives) decision to stop people from being able to comment on his Facebook posts showed that he was not willing to listen to residents.

Ms Wright stood as an independent against Simon Jupp MP in the 2019 general election, coming in second place. She had previously lost two general elections to Mr Jupp’s predecessor as Conservative candidate, Sir Hugo Swire.

Ms Wright said: “The move to censor comments on his Facebook page comes after a torrid few weeks of being challenged by his constituents and by me on his voting record.

“It also appears to be an escalation of a pattern which has seen dozens of residents who are politely challenging him, blocked from his social media platforms since he was elected in 2019.

“That he has now blocked Facebook comments shows that he is on transmit and not receive. This does not demonstrate the qualities of a thoughtful and effective representative, nor does it demonstrate [a] willingness to be held publicly accountable, or even to listen, except on his own limited terms.”

Mr Jupp responded, saying: “If you live in the East Devon constituency and need my help or want to raise policy matters, the best way to get in touch is via email, letter or phone. Unfortunately, monitoring social media can be a full-time job in itself and I wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to help a local resident.

“I hold regular surgeries and my office in Exmouth marks the first time that East Devon’s MP has a dedicated office in the constituency. As thousands of constituents have discovered since I was elected nearly two years ago, I am here to help.”

Mr Jupp said that eight people had been blocked from his Facebook page “after continual abuse, defamation and bullying of other contributors.”

Comments have been switched off on the page for everyone. Old comments have not been deleted.

The MP’s Facebook page has just under 1,000 ‘likes’ and almost 1,300 followers.

Flooded residents deserve some compensation – Simon Jupp

Simon Jupp in his latest press article says: The failure of water companies to adequately reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows is unacceptable. The good news is that regulators and the government are stepping in…” 

This was not his initial reaction.

No apology for voting for the government “light touch” environment bill and then against the Lord’s amendment 45  “to make improvements to their sewerage systems and demonstrate progressive reductions in the harm caused by discharges of untreated sewage.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing! – Owl

Simon Jupp

At the end of October, Clyst St Mary residents woke up to some rather unpleasant sights and smells.

 The local drainage system had been unable to cope with torrential rainfall. The worst affected villagers had to wade through sewage and some have been left without usable toilet facilities.

 Immediately, I asked the chief executive of South West Water to urgently get a grip on the situation and liaise directly with the local parish council who were gathering information on the ground.

 South West Water’s engineering director met with the community to explain the short and long-term actions they are now taking. It will include new piping for properties and increasing capacity at nearby pumping stations.

 Yet action over weeks and months is not of comfort to families with young children who are currently having to use portable toilets in their gardens as the nights draw in and the temperatures drop. I met with South West Water and asked them to set out a clear timetable of actions and communicate with residents as often as possible to provide updates on work being done. I will receive these updates too, as will local councillors of all political stripes as we set politics aside to work together for our communities. I have also asked South West Water to provide financial compensation to those most badly affected.

 The failure of water companies to adequately reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows is unacceptable. The good news is that regulators and the government are stepping in. The Environment Agency watchdog has just launched an investigation into more than 2,000 sewage treatment works. And recently, both the Commons and the Lords agreed to the landmark Environment Act that introduces tougher penalties on water companies, new reporting duties, industry action plans to clean up our waterways, and a strict legal framework to ensure these new measures are properly enforced.

 I’ll continue to have regular meetings with South West Water about sewage infrastructure in East Devon. Clyst St Mary residents were unfortunate enough to experience foul flooding. It’s only right that they should get compensation, not just an apology.

UK water firms spilled sewage into sea bathing waters 5,517 times in last year

The major culprit is Southern Water with South West Water also producing a “notably poor performance for the third consecutive year”. – Owl

Sandra Laville 

Water companies spilled raw sewage into coastal bathing waters used by holidaymakers and families 5,517 times in the last year, an increase of more than 87%, new data reveals.

The discharges, through storm overflows, went on to beaches that were supposed to be the cleanest and safest in England and Wales, used by children, tourists, surfers and swimmers.

“We are in the midst of a new wave of sewage pollution,” said the 2021 Water Quality report by Surfers Against Sewage. “There are hundreds of thousands of sewage discharges polluting rivers and coastlines, all of which could impact the overall health of aquatic ecosystems.”

The data is gathered from water company alerts of spills via storm overflows across 308 locations. During the bathing water season – 15 May to the end of September – water companies issued alerts 3,328 times. The rest of the spills took place outside those months.

Storm overflows are supposed to be used in emergencies to ease pressure on the system after extreme weather or exceptional rainfall. But this report adds to the growing evidence that they are being used routinely.

Southern Water, which was fined a record £90m this year for billions of litres of raw sewage spills, issued 1,194 alerts of sewage spills, an average of 38 spills for each bathing water location, compared with an average of between two and eight for other water companies. Almost 30% of the 286 health reports submitted this year came from Southern Water’s operating area.

South West Water also produced a “notably poor performance for the third consecutive year”, with 406 discharges in the bathing water season on to popular beaches.

Hugo Tagholm, the chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage, said: “The findings of our report are shocking and outrageous, but they are by no means unexpected. Time and time again, governments have claimed concern over the pollution of rivers and seas, but have so far failed to take concrete action to change the status quo. Loopholes in laws and systematically defunded regulators have left water companies to run amok.”

For the first time the campaign group carried out testing of water quality at river mouths feeding into bathing beaches. The results were “shocking.” In six out of eight rivers the quality of the water was so poor as a result of faecal contamination that it posed an extreme danger to human health.

The findings come as the Environment Agency continues a major investigation into more than 2000 sewage treatment works after water companies admitted they may be illegally discharging raw sewage. Concerns over sewage dumping into rivers and seas have sparked grassroots campaigns all over the country. Members of the public in Southern Water areas have taken to beaches to protest and some have begun a rate payers revolt.

The citizen testing at river mouths provided a strong comparison to water quality testing undertaken by environmental regulators, and was carried out to fill the gap in the monitoring of river water quality. Only one river in the UK – the Wharfe in Ilkley – is a designated bathing water and therefore subject to the same scrutiny as coastal waters. The rest are not monitored for faecal pollution, despite the fact that 90 percent of storm overflows discharge directly into rivers.

Only 14 percent of rivers in the UK are of good ecological standard, a rating that suggests they are as close to their natural state as possible.

The rivers tested were; Afon Wyre River flowing into Llanrhystud Beach, Hoffnant River, flowing into Penbryn Beach, Figgate Burn into Portobello Beach in Scotland, River Bann flowing into Portstewart Beach in Northern Ireland, Seaton Burn flowing into Seaton Sluice Beach, Northumbria, the River Adur into Southwick Beach in Southern England, the River Ribble into St Agnes Beach in northwest England and the Cadoxton River flowing into Whitmore Bay Beach, Barry Island, south Wales.

E.coli levels in Figgate Burn were continuously at a level that poses an extreme risk to public health.

At the remaining five river locations results consistently showed faecal contamination levels that posed an extreme risk to public health.

Water quality at the River Bann and Cadoxton river was excellent.

Dr Christian Dunn, senior lecturer in natural sciences at Bangor University, said: “Untreated sewage can be a death potion to our rivers and waterways. It is a cocktail of harmful viruses, bacteria and chemicals. Some of these can directly harm aquatic life and others lead to devastating disruptions in the oxygen levels of the water – risking entire ecosystems … Rivers are essential for the health of entire landscapes, our wildlife depends on them, and there’s no surer way to destroy a river than flooding it with sewage.”

A spokesperson for Water UK, an industry body, said the companies recognised the urgent need for action to protect and enhance the UK’s rivers and seas.

Our recent 21st Century Rivers report sets out the key steps needed to achieve the radical changes we all want to see, including calling on government to bring forward legislation in a new Rivers Act that will provide greater protection for rivers in law. We know we need to go further and water companies want to invest more to improve infrastructure and stop harm from storm overflows and outfalls.

“With our coastal bathing waters we have a good base to build on with more than 70% rated as ‘excellent’, and over 90% as either ‘excellent’ or ‘good’. This improvement has come about thanks to collaborative working between industry, government, regulators and other stakeholders over several years.”

Dr Toby Willison, director of environment and corporate affairs at Southern Water, said: “We share the passion and commitment of Surfers Against Sewage to protect our precious coastal water and the 700 miles of coastline in our region.

“We know our performance has to improve and we are driving a step change in investment spending £2 billion to cut pollution incidents by 80 per cent by 2025.

“Our new task force aims to cut storm overflows by 80 per cent by 2030. Our target is ambitious but all 83 of our bathing waters meet strict European standards and 78 are excellent or good, a challenge which 20 years ago seemed impossible.”

Third doses can save Christmas

According to ZOE COVID Study incidence figures, in total there are currently   76,728 new daily symptomatic cases of COVID in the UK on average, based on PCR and LFT test data from up to five days ago [*]. An increase of 18% from 65,059 new daily cases last week. 

In the vaccinated population (at least two doses) cases have leveled off and it’s estimated there are currently 24,219 new daily symptomatic cases in the UK. An increase of 8% from  22,482 new daily cases last week (Graph 1). 

The UK R value is estimated to be around 1.1 and regional R values are; England, 1.1, Wales, 1.1, Scotland, 1.0 (Table 1). 

In terms of prevalence, on average 1 in 66 people in the UK currently have symptomatic COVID. In the regions, England, 1 in 66. Wales,1 in 51. Scotland, 1 in 81. (Table 1). 

The number of daily new cases among 0-17 year olds is now rapidly rising and is the main driver of the bounce back in overall numbers. The rise in cases is also being seen in the 35-55 age group. There has been no uptick in cases in the over 55s, likely due in part to the third dose (booster) vaccines giving this group better protection. (Graph 2).

Case numbers are rising generally across the UK, particularly in regions of England including the Midlands, North West, and the East of England (Graph 3),  while rates are highest in Wales and lowest in Scotland. 

ZOE’s predicted Long COVID incidence rate currently estimates, at current case rates, 1,268 people a day will go on to experience symptoms for longer than 12 weeks. (Graph 4). 

The ZOE COVID Study incidence figures (new symptomatic cases) are based on reports from around 750,000 weekly contributors and the proportion of newly symptomatic users who have received positive swab tests. The latest survey figures were based on data from 40,707 recent swab tests done in the two weeks up to 20 November 2021. 

Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist on the ZOE COVID Study app, comments on the latest data:

“Seeing cases on the rise again is really disheartening and the recent ups and downs, unlike previous waves, is making it hard to predict where things will be from week-to-week. However, for me, the message is that cases are still far too high. Although we  appear, for now, to be faring better than some European countries in terms of case numbers, the UK continues to have relatively high hospital admissions and deaths, which is a real cause for concern. Given the current overloading of our hospitals, now isn’t the time to portray the UK as a COVID success story, far from it. Whilst the rise in new cases is being driven by children, focusing on them in the short-term would be a mistake. While the government is unlikely to enforce restrictions for Christmas, family gatherings will undoubtedly increase risk, especially for older and more vulnerable family members who haven’t yet had their third vaccine dose. Saving Christmas is up to us. Those of us eligible for the third jab should take it now, and we should be mindful that one in four people with cold-like symptoms have COVID-19. Consider the risks and keep your family out of hospital over the holidays.”

Graph 1. The ZOE COVID Study UK incidence figures results over time; total number of new cases and new cases in fully vaccinated

Graph 2. Incidence by age group 

Graph 3. Prevalence rate by region

Graph 4. Predicted Long COVID incidence over time

Please refer to the publication by Thompson at al. (2021) for details on how long covid rates in the population are modelled

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

Map of UK prevalence figures

HMRC to relocate to Newcastle office owned by Tory donors via tax haven

HM Revenue and Customs has struck a deal to relocate tax officials into a new office complex in Newcastle owned by major Conservative party donors through an offshore company based in a tax haven, the Guardian can reveal.

Harry Davies 

The department’s planned new home in the north-east of England is part of a regeneration scheme developed by a British Virgin Islands (BVI) entity controlled by the billionaire property tycoons David and Simon Reuben.

The deal will see officials at the government department responsible for preventing tax avoidance working from a site owned by a subsidiary of a company based in a secretive offshore tax jurisdiction.

The Reuben brothers, their family members and businesses have donated a combined £1.9m to the Tories. Earlier this week, the brothers are reported to have shared a table with Boris Johnson at an exclusive Tory party fundraising dinner.

On Tuesday, officials including the Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay announced HMRC had agreed the 25-year lease with one of the Reuben brothers’ companies.

The brothers are the second richest family in the UK, according to the Sunday Times’s rich list. David Reuben’s son, Jamie, is a close ally of the prime minister and has served as a Tory party treasurer. He has donated more than £750,000 to the party since Johnson entered Downing Street.

The Reuben family has built a significant presence in Newcastle in recent years and is part of the controversial Saudi Arabia-led consortium that acquired Newcastle United football club in October.

Company filings show the family has frequently used BVI companies to hold its UK business interests, which include a luxury London property portfolio and a string of racecourses.

A spokesperson for HMRC said the office complex in Newcastle is owned and will be developed by a UK company, Reuben Brothers (Newcastle) Limited. However, Companies House filings show the company’s sole shareholder when it was incorporated earlier this year was Taras Properties Limited in the BVI.

Taras Properties first acquired the site in 2013 and transferred ownership of the land to the UK company in June this year for £10m, according to Land Registry records. The BVI company owns multiple large plots of land in central Newcastle in the area surrounding HMRC’s planned offices.

A spokesperson for the Reuben brothers confirmed the UK company is held by Taras Properties, but insisted the subsidiary “operates and pays taxes as a UK company”.

HMRC’s spokesperson insisted the Reuben brothers’ company would be subject to normal UK tax regulation. “The lease payments and any gains on the sale are subject to UK tax,” they said. “HMRC is satisfied the deal represents the best value for money for the taxpayer.”

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by the Reuben brothers and owning UK property through offshore companies is perfectly legal.

But the government’s decision to move 9,000 HMRC staff to the site comes as it faces calls to honour a commitment to introduce a register of overseas companies owning UK properties. The draft bill, first published in 2018, is designed to crack down on the use of offshore companies to obscure owners’ identities and their source of funds.

Combatting offshore tax evasion and avoidance is described as one of HMRC’s priorities and earlier this year the department unveiled plans to crack down on offshore tax avoidance by targeting UK-based entities facilitating the sale of avoidance schemes using tax havens.

Responding to the move, Dame Margaret Hodge, a Labour MP and chair of the cross-party parliamentary group on anti-corruption and responsible tax, said: “It’s outrageous that HMRC should be using taxpayers’ money to benefit somebody that relies on offshore structures based in tax havens.”