Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning14 February

Just how deep are these Russian links to Tories? 

Ex-Tory energy minister Lord Barker is urged by Ben Wallace to quit the Lords over £6million-a-year links to Russian aluminium giant EN+ which boasts a sanctioned oligarch as a major shareholder

  • Ben Wallace said Lord Barker must sever ties with EN + and quit House of Lords
  • Lord Barker retains his seat in the Lords while working full-time for the company 
  • EN+ boasts Oleg Deripaska – a sanctioned oligarch – as a major shareholder

(One time business pal of our ex-MP Hugo Swire)

But all is now well as Sir Hugo Swire starts making films with Johnson’s former mistress

Horse trading in Bristol under Mayoral system

Council budget expected to pass at second attempt despite anger

Adam Postans www.bristolpost.co.uk 

Marvin Rees’s reworked budget is set to be approved despite criticism that he has “disregarded” the will of councillors.

Bristol City Council’s Conservatives have thrown their weight behind the Labour mayor’s spending plans after he incorporated several of their proposals, including restoring Kingsweston Iron Bridge and slashing the cost of bulky household item collections. This is despite councillors voting to reject the Tories’ amendments at the first, aborted attempt to set the budget, on Tuesday, February 15, which ended in “stalemate” when Mr Rees chose to take his permitted five working days to review the changes.

If Labour and the Conservatives now join forces as expected at the second full council meeting on Wednesday, March 2, it would be enough for it to gain the simple majority required. But Cllr Heather Mack, leader of the main opposition Greens, says that while the mayor has accepted some of her party’s amendments, other proposals that were likewise approved by full council last week, including reopening public toilets, have been quietly ditched, while the Tories’ ideas thrown out by councillors have been taken on.

Full council voted in favour of five opposition amendments at the first meeting – four from the Greens, one by Knowle Community Party but neither of the two sets of alterations from the Conservatives. Cllr Mack said the changes agreed would already have been adopted if Bristol had a committee system but that under the mayoral model Mr Rees had “free reign to reject the will of a majority of elected councillors”.

Residents get to decide which of the two systems they want in a referendum in May. Cllr Mack said: “In last year’s local elections Bristol voted Green in record numbers – and this year Greens used our increased power in the council to make a significant difference to the mayor’s budget.

“We put forward sensible amendments to reverse some of the worst cuts proposed by Labour, including cuts to union support, charging for disabled parking bays and scrapping 30 minutes’ parking in residents’ parking areas. So I’m glad that our influence on the budget has led to the administration U-turning on these proposed cuts, and that Green amendments have also been accepted which will mean more investment in tackling illegal parking and more funding for residents’ parking schemes (RPSs) and ‘school streets’ projects that Bristol needs.

“However, it is disappointing to see the mayor disregard some amendments passed by full council at the budget meeting, which would have funded new public toilets across the city, invested millions of pounds into parks and neighbourhoods and supported Jubilee Pool’s community transfer. Under a committee system the council would have already adopted these amendments, but under the Mayoral system one person has free reign to reject the will of a majority of elected councillors.”

Cllr Andrew Brown, deputy leader of the Lib Dems, whose amendments were voted down, said: “We are disappointed that the mayor chose not to engage with groups from across the council chamber when deciding on alternative proposals. However, we note that he has adopted a number of proposals from amendments brought to council.

“We will be examining the detail over the next few days and deciding how to vote. Our preference would be for the budget, as democratically amended by last week’s council, to pass in the first vote of the night.”

The second budget meeting will begin with a debate and vote on the budget as amended by full council last time. But this requires a two-thirds majority to pass because it does not have the mayor’s approval so is classed as an alternative budget, and Labour would have enough votes to block it even without the help of other groups.

If it falls, members will then vote on the mayor’s revised budget, which has 17 changes to the original version but still includes £19.5million of cuts in 2022/23 and £33million over the next few years. Unlike before, it includes at least one new RPS with community support, more traffic wardens, one-off funding for Queen’s Jubilee fruit-tree planting, more money for parks and play equipment, and upgrades to local shopping centres and road junctions impacted by the massive Cribbs housing development, plus the Iron Bridge repairs.

The combined £205,000 cost of reducing fees from £25 to £15 for collecting three bulky household items and scrapping plans to charge residents for private disabled parking bays will be met from cuts to a non-staffing budget to the mayor’s office, with the intention to reinstate that money in future from an as-yet unidentified source. Mr Rees has otherwise protected funding for the mayor’s office, City Office and the authority’s public relations.

But among the budget amendments passed at full council that Mr Rees has not included in his revised proposals are reopening public toilets, reducing £5.5million cuts to the council’s workforce by £1million and creating a loan facility for the new community management at Jubilee Pool in Knowle. Absences aside, Labour’s 24 councillors, plus Mr Rees’s vote, combined with the Conservatives’ 14 members, not including lord mayor Cllr Steve Smith whose ceremonial role as full council chairman traditionally sees him vote only to split a tie, gives them 39 votes out of 70 – passing the 50 per cent threshold.

Conservative group leader Cllr Mark Weston said: “Whilst very disappointed that our amendments fell at the first budget-fixing meeting thanks to opposition from the mayor and Green Party, we have had a productive exchange with the administration over the best way forward and made clear what our red lines would be in return for backing a revised proposal. My colleagues were particularly adamant over the need to resolve the stalled restoration of the Iron Bridge.

“However, it is pleasing to see that a lot of our other major asks have also been included in the altered budget proposals. Here, the increased funding for transport improvements linked to the Cribbs Patchway New Neighbourhood and extra investment in high streets and our parks are significant and welcome. These changes, together with other incorporated content such as the retention of 30 minutes’ free parking in RPSs, have been endorsed by my group so I would expect to see this new consensus to be reflected in the final voting next week.”

Breaking news: Torbay MP and  immigration minister, Kevin Foster “Loses the Plot”

Ukrainians can apply to pick fruit & veg says MP in deleted tweet

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

Torbay MP Kevin Foster has come under fire for a now-deleted tweet in which he said Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion can apply for jobs picking fruit and veg.

The Conservative MP was responding to Plymouth’s Labour MP Luke Pollard to explain that there are a ‘number of routes’ for refugees from the war.

The Tory government has come under pressure to allow Ukrainians refuge in the UK as the invading Russian forces surge toward Kyiv and other key objectives, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson stating that ‘of course’ the UK would help, the Mirror reports.

Labour had slammed the the Government’s refusal to relax visa restrictions for those seeking sanctuary in the UK was “immoral” at a time when the country was under fire, but Home Secretary Priti Patel has accussd the opposition of “appalling misinformation” and saying the claims were “simply untrue”.

Mr Foster, an immigration minister under Priti Patel, had tweeted on Saturday evening: “Hi Luke, as you are well aware there are a number of routes, not least our seasonal work scheme you will recall from your shadow DEFRA days, which Ukrainians can qualify for, alongside the family route for those with relatives here.”

The tweet was later deleted.

Kevin Foster’s now deleted tweet

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper reacted by tweeting: “My God. People are fleeing war in Europe, the like we haven’t seen in generations, in search of swift sanctuary.

“Yet the immigration minister says the answer is they should put in an application to pick Britain’s fruit & veg.”

The tweet was widely criticised on social media, with Labour and Co-op MP for Leeds, Alex Sobel, replying: “Kevin this is beneath you. I hope you can apologise to the people of Ukraine fleeing for their lives and join the voices calling for the UK to match what our European friends are offering the oppressed masses of Ukraine.”

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon responded to Mr Foster’s words, saying: “I hope we get clarity ASAP from Priti Patel that this is not a Home Office position.

“Migrant seasonal workers make a valued contribution to our economy – but this is not the route to the UK that we should expect those seeking refuge from war to rely on.”

Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw said: “Torbay MP & Tory Home Office Minister Kevin Foster seems to have lost the plot with this tweet. Saying Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s bombs should apply for the “seasonal workers scheme”, when other countries are welcoming the mainly women & children refugees with open arms.”

A Government spokesman said the priority was supporting British nationals and their dependents who are resident in Ukraine who wanted to get out.

“We are working around the clock to process visa applications and are processing many applications in a matter of hours,” the spokesman said.

Application fees had been temporarily waived for those eligible for entry by the family route while those who did not meet the requirements were being allowed entry for 12 months.

While the main UK visa application centre in Kyiv has been closed, the one in Lviv remained open for family members of British nationals in Ukraine. Staff had been “surged” to the centres in nearby countries, including Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary, to help those who made it across the border.

“Ukrainian nationals are able to apply for visas from these centres and we have announced concessions for Ukrainians currently in the UK, to extend or switch their visa,” the spokeswoman said.

Stressed NHS staff in England quit at record 400 a week, fuelling fears over care quality

A record number of more than 400 workers in England have left the NHS every week to restore their work-life balance over the last year, according to a new analysis of the workforce crisis hitting the health service.

Michael Savage www.theguardian.com 

The flood of departures comes with staff complaining of burnout and cases of post-traumatic stress disorder following two years of battling the Covid pandemic. There are now concerns that the exodus is impacting the quality of care, with more than a quarter of adults saying they or an immediate family member had received poor care as a result of the workforce problems.

The findings emerged in an assessment of the health service compiled by John Hall, a former strategy director at the Department of Health and Social Care, for the Engage Britain charity. Concerns over the state of the workforce came top of its list as it investigated the public’s attitude towards health and social care services, which remain under pressure in the wake of the pandemic.

“The workforce crisis in the NHS has clearly penetrated the public consciousness,” Hall writes. “The UK has long had significantly lower numbers of doctors and nurses per capita than comparable systems … More recently, the impact of working conditions is showing an increasing impact on the ability of the NHS to retain staff. Around 50 in every 10,000 staff working in hospital and community health services in June 2021 left the service within the next three months, citing work-life balance as the reason. This was a new record.”

Analysis of NHS Digital figures found that at least 400 staff a week in England are leaving to improve their work-life balance. It comes alongside evidence of high turnover among social care workers. Recent estimates show more than a third (34%) of care workers left their roles in 2020-21.

Earlier this month, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt told the government it had “missed an opportunity” to alleviate the workforce crisis in the NHS and social care, after rejecting the Commons health select committee’s recommendation to overhaul workforce planning. Staff shortages were the main driver of worker burnout, he said

Engage Britain gathered a panel of people from across the country to identify attitudes and concerns towards health and social care services. Patient treatment, support for mental health issues and preventative healthcare were among the main issues identified.

Care work and nursing were named as some of our most undervalued professions, with 69% saying more NHS staff are needed.

One senior occupational therapist, speaking anonymously to the project, said she decided to pay for an expensive operation after injuring her knee because she had seen how overwhelmed the NHS had become. “Waiting for eight weeks might become 12 weeks, or more. Living on my own, I didn’t have anyone to help me, and relying on friends just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t a difficult decision to go private. I just felt lucky I was in the position where I could choose when others can’t.

“I think people generally feel overworked and undervalued in the NHS. There are problems with recruitment and retention of staff. Some vacancies are unfilled for more than a year. The stress levels on staff in under-resourced teams is massive and it’s a major contributor to them struggling with their mental health and wellbeing. Ultimately, people make the decision to leave, or to take early retirement, or seek other careers.”

Jenny Bevan, 74, from Bath, said she was left fearful of returning to hospital after she sought treatment for a hiatus hernia in 2018. She said she felt staff shortages and other stresses on the NHS had played a major role. “The surgery went well, but afterwards I was left in the recovery room for hours. There appeared to be only one nurse and, as the day wore on, the number of patients grew and grew.

“I was anxious because my granddaughter had all my personal belongings and didn’t know where I was. But the nurse wouldn’t let her in to see me. She seemed stressed and clearly needed more help.

“When I had to go to the toilet, I was not allowed to get out of bed so I had to use a bedpan which spilled over and it was just awful. I was eventually transferred to a ward for dementia patients. I was in considerable pain but was told I’d have to wait for the doctor as the nurse wasn’t qualified to give strong painkillers.”

Julian McCrae, Engage Britain’s director, said frontline health and care workers were now “running on empty” and a plan for boosting the workforce was overdue. “NHS workers across the country have spoken to us about feeling overstretched, undervalued and struggling to get support in a chaotic system,” he said. “We can’t allow staff to burn out, while putting patients at risk of mistakes or spiralling downwards as they wait months for treatment. The government must act quickly to expand its promise of reform, based on listening to the people who use or work in the system every day. Only answers rooted in real experiences can deliver health and care that works for us all.”

Boris Johnson’s promise to build 4,000 zero-emission buses makes zero progress

One of Boris Johnson flagship “green” pledges – to provide 4,000 new zero-emission, British-built buses by the end of 2024 – has been cast into serious doubt by UK manufacturers who say they have yet to receive any orders for new vehicles.

Toby Helm www.theguardian.com 

MPs and campaigners are pressuring ministers for information on when money will be committed to allow the manufacture of the zero-emission buses, which the prime minister promised would form part of a green transport revolution in his first term in Downing Street. He made the pledge in February 2020, just before the Covid pandemic, when he was keen to promote his environmental credentials and show how green policies could benefit people’s lives whileboosting British businesses.

Since then, only a fraction of the necessary funds has been allocated, with £320m being committed by chancellor Rishi Sunak in last autumn’s spending review, towards an estimated total of £4bn needed to put 4,000 green buses on the road.

UK manufacturers say that unless the funds are committed and orders made soon, there will not be time to get the new vehicles into service in time to meet Johnson’s promise.

Paul Davies, managing director of bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis, which is Britain’s biggest bus builder and the world’s largest manufacturer of double-decker buses, said: “The problem is that we are running out of time to deliver on what was promised. If everything is left until the last minute, the danger is we have to look to overseas companies for quicker and cheaper options when the intention was that they would be British-made.”

Buta Atwal, chief executive of another major bus manufacturer, Wrightbus, said he had been encouraged by Johnson’s announcement two years ago but had been left disappointed not to have heard any positive news about orders since. “We invested heavily in zero-emission technology on the basis of the government’s plans. so we are looking forward to the first order.”

Paul Tuohy, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: “It’s clear from our work with bus operators, local authorities, utility companies and others involved in providing bus services that we are not currently on target to deliver nearly enough zero-emission buses anywhere near fast enough.

“Government must step in to offer more support to the industry in the long term and do more to boost passenger numbers in the short term to give operators the confidence to invest.”

Shadow buses minister Sam Tarry MP said ministers had misled parliament about the programme. “British manufacturers tell me they haven’t received a single order. We’re now more than two years on from when the prime minister promised there’d be 4,000 zero-emission buses on our roads by 2025.

“They’re clearly well off target and this is yet another sign that they’re not serious about their commitment to decarbonise our economy and meet our net zero target by 2050, and they’re not serious about supporting British manufacturing and jobs.”

The Campaign for Better Transport said that of the 38,000 buses nationally, currently only 12% are hybrid and 2% are zero-emission (4% in London and 1% in the rest of England).

In the recent levelling up white paper, ministers said that “over £500m is being spent this parliament on delivering zero-emission buses.”

Labour says this shows that the government is already backing away from its previous commitments, as this would only allow a tiny proportion of the promised number to be manufactured.

Last year, announcing his bus strategy, Johnson said: “I love buses and I have never quite understood why so few governments before mine have felt the same way,” adding that “better buses will be one of our major acts of levelling up”.

A DfT spokesperson said: “The government remains committed to supporting the introduction of 4,000 zero-emission buses and achieving an all zero-emission bus fleet. This will support our climate ambitions, improve transport for local communities and support high quality green jobs.”

Boris Johnson mocking the idea of armed conflict returning to Europe is quite the watch

It’s all about Boris Johnson’s lack of judgement and shallow grasp of events – Owl

Poke Staff www.thepoke.co.uk 

News

This clip of Boris Johnson giving evidence to MPs last November went wildly viral for reasons that are about to become obvious.

It’s the prime minister responding to concerns about defence cuts from Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative MP and chairman of the Commons’ defence select committee.

“The old concepts of fighting big tank battles on European land mass are over,” said Boris Johnson last November, as he mocked the idea of armed conflict returning to Europe. pic.twitter.com/81uUyOcSDJ

— Adam Bienkov (@AdamBienkov) February 25, 2022

Not just what he was saying, you might think, but the way that he said it.

And here are just a few of the things people said in response to the clip, which (at the time I write this) has been watched nearly 2.5 million times.

Watch this and tell me we are in safe hands. https://t.co/4AhUbmJAYa

— Deborah Meaden 💙 (@DeborahMeaden) February 25, 2022

This recent argument between @Tobias_Ellwood and @BorisJohnson is absolutely jaw dropping, and shows how little the prime minister and his advisors understood Putin and his ambitions https://t.co/OftEEuu3lW

— Robert Peston (@Peston) February 25, 2022

This is the man who calls his opposition: ‘Captain Hindsight’. https://t.co/MdNqatzjZM

— Jonathan Pie (@JonathanPieNews) February 25, 2022

Winston Churchill served in the military. The only service associated with Boris Johnson is that of drinks served at “work” events. We can do better. The world is too dangerous to have a buffoon in Downing St https://t.co/vWuavZcKN1

— Gavin Esler (@gavinesler) February 25, 2022

In one word.

Wow. https://t.co/ZhULu9yJ4j

— James Oh Brien (@mrjamesob) February 25, 2022

Only one in four people willing to pay for Covid tests

Back to living with the virus “blindfold”, as we were at the beginning in March 2020, not good when a new mutation appears – Owl

Chris Smyth www.thetimes.co.uk 

Most people say they will stop checking themselves for Covid once tests are no longer free.

Just one in four say they will carry on taking tests if they have symptoms once they have to pay, a finding that is likely to intensify fears that infections could rebound now all restrictions are lifted.

In a YouGov poll for The Times one in six people in England said they would no longer bother to isolate if they were confirmed to have the virus, after a legal requirement to do so was dropped this week.

Public health guidance continues to urge people to stay at home if they have Covid and the poll found that 78 per cent said they probably or definitely would isolate if they tested positive.

Young people are far less likely to stay at home, with 22 per cent of those aged 18-24 saying they would not isolate if they had Covid, compared with 7 per cent of over the 65s.

The poll raises the question of whether people will actually know that they have Covid once free tests end in spring. From April 1, only the most vulnerable will be eligible for free tests in England, with ministers saying they will work with companies to establish a market so that people can pay for tests themselves.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, pressed for the end of free tests, which cost £2 billion a month, and won out over Sajid Javid, the health secretary, who wanted wider eligibility.

The poll found just 24 per cent of people would pay to take a test if they had Covid symptoms. The elderly were most likely to do so, but still just 35 per cent of over 65s said they would and 17 per cent of the under 25s.

Even among those who said they would be willing to pay, most would not pay more than £5, with 23 per cent saying £1 was the most they would hand over for a test, and 52 per cent saying up to £5. Just 4 per cent said they would pay more than £10. Officials expect that tests will sell for a few pounds each, with Boots saying this week that it will be selling individual tests for £5.99 or in packs of four for £17.

Internal government debates are still raging over the extent of NHS staff testing and the size of a test stockpile to be kept in readiness for future variants, after Sunak insisted they had to be paid for out of existing health budgets.

Javid has warned this could delay plans for social care reform and bringing down waiting lists.

With masks no longer compulsory in England, fewer people say they will carry on wearing them in shops or public transport than when face-covering rules were similarly relaxed last summer. Some 60 per cent say they will carry on wearing masks, compared with 70 per cent last July.

Rising numbers are also relaxed being around others who are not wearing masks, with an even split between those saying they would and would not be comfortable travelling on public transport when others were not wearing face coverings. This week 43 per cent said they would be comfortable, up from 31 per cent in July. YouGov interviewed 1,504 adults in England on Thursday and Friday.

While government science advisers have largely accepted the argument for returning to normality, they are concerned by the imminent end of widespread testing. Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, told The Times that while England was “in a good position to ease restrictions”, widely available lateral flow tests were “particularly useful when the prevalence is high and I would prefer to see them in place for the time being”.

Party funding linked to Russia – how much have Tories benefited?

Boris Johnson could not have been more clear. “I just think it’s very important that the house understands: we do not raise money from Russian oligarchs.” Some opposition MPs laughed, and it very much is the case that the prime minister was accurate only in a strict legalistic sense.

Peter Walker www.theguardian.com 

It would be impossible for someone with only Russian nationality, however rich, to donate legally to a UK political party. What has undoubtedly happened is that a series of people with dual UK-Russian nationality, or with significant business links with Russia, have donated heavily to the Conservatives in recent years.

A Labour party calculation based on Electoral Commission information estimated that donors who had made money from Russia or Russians had given £1.93m to either the Tory party or constituency associations since Johnson became prime minister.

Others put the sum higher. Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, to whom Johnson was replying in the Commons on Wednesday, said the Tories had raised £2.3m “from Russian oligarchs”.

Oligarch is a loose term but is often associated in this context with very rich people who generally made their money amid the financial free-for-all of the post-Soviet and Putin era, and who often keep close links to the Russian president.

Those who have donated to the Tories since Johnson entered No 10 in July 2019 deny either that any of their wealth has murky origins, or that they are under any sort of Russian influence over how they use it.

The biggest single donor of this group is the financier Lubov Chernukhin, who has donated £700,000. A British national since 2011, she is married to Vladimir Chernukhin, a former deputy finance minister under Putin. Documents published in the Pandora papers in October suggest he was allowed to leave Russia in 2004 with assets worth about $500m (£366m) and retain Russian business connections.

The couple’s lawyers say that none of Vladimir Chernukhin’s wealth was acquired in a corrupt manner, and that none of his wife’s donations were funded by improper means or affected by the influence of anyone else.

What is certain is that Lubov Chernukhin is a generous donor and something of a presence in Tory circles; she had the winning bid at the party’s 2020 fundraising ball for the prize of a game of tennis with Johnson.

Shortly before Johnson became PM, Liz Truss, then international trade secretary, posted a photo to Instagram of what she termed a “ladies’ night”, posing alongside Theresa May and a series of other female Tory MPs, plus Lubov Chernukhin.

The industrialist Alexander Temerko, also a UK national, has donated £357,000 since Johnson took office. He is a minority shareholder and co-owner of a company called Aquind. Its majority investor is the Russian-born oil tycoon Viktor Fedotov.

Another big Tory donor in the Johnson era is the businessman Mohamed Amersi, who has given £258,000 over the period.

Amersi advised on a lucrative telecom deal in Russia in 2005 with a company that a Swiss tribunal subsequently found to be controlled by an associate of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Amersi told the Financial Times in July he had made $7m in the country, but only prior to 2008. “Not a penny that I earned in Russia … has even remotely come close to being invested in the UK political system,” he said.

Under electoral laws for Great Britain – they vary slightly in Northern Ireland – donations to parties can be made only by people on the UK electoral register, or from UK-registered companies and other organisations such as unions.

The only people allowed to go on the electoral register in England are British citizens, people with EU citizenship living in the UK, and Commonwealth citizens who can live in the UK.