Exmouth’s Queen’s Drive to get refurbishments

Exmouth’s Queen’s Drive is to be spruced up over the next month with new picnic benches and lights as well as repair works to sun shelters. 

Owl understands that other communities have been offered benches or planters as part of this “Welcome Back Fund”.

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk 

New bike racks and gates may also be put in if there is enough time to organise the works.

The investment will paid for by money East Devon District Council (EDDC) has left from the EU’s European Regional Development Fund

The UK government received £56 million from the kitty, some of which it paid to councils as part of a ‘Welcome Back Fund’ to help local authorities recover from the pandemic.

The Queen’s Drive updates must be paid by the end of March otherwise the council will lose the money.

It forms a continuation of work done last year which saw the boardwalks, staging and some badly rotten seating replaced.

The seating areas in better condition were left in, but a year on they are now in a poor state and need to be replaced. The new benches will be made of recycled composite which will last longer and require less maintenance than the old timber seating.

Speaking at a meeting of the Exmouth Queen’s Drive delivery group at EDDC, a council officer said the area’s light bulbs “are all full of water, basically” and need to be replaced. The new lights will be more energy efficient.

The sun shelters will be repaired and tidied up. Parts of Queen’s Drive will also receive a fresh lick of paint.

Revealed: ITV News obtains partygate questionnaire as Boris Johnson awaits possible fine

Downing Street staff have been asked by police to provide a “lawful exception” or “reasonable excuse” for parties which took place during lockdown, a partygate questionnaire leaked to ITV News has shown.

www.itv.com 

The questionnaires – sent to those suspected of breaking Covid regulations by attending gatherings at the height of the pandemic – form part of the evidence the Metropolitan Police is gathering as part of its investigation into potential law-breaking on Downing Street. The prime minister has already returned his copy and the document gives the first insight into the kind of questions he is likely to have been asked.

Police make clear to recipients that people are filling out the questionnaire under caution and Boris Johnson is understood to be the first prime minister subject to that level of police questioning.

The document states at the outset that those accused have an opportunity to provide “a written statement under caution”.

It then goes on to ask around a dozen questions, including:

  • “Did you participate in a gathering on a specific date”
  • “What was the purpose of your participation in that gathering”
  • “Did you interact with, or undertake any activity with, other persons present at the gathering. If yes, please provide details”

The questionnaire asks for timings of the person’s attendance at the party and how many others were present.

Importantly, it also provides them with a chance to justify their actions, asking: “What, if any, lawful exception applied to the gathering and/or what reasonable excuse did you have for participating in the gathering?”

The Metropolitan Police says there are three ways to respond to the questionnaire:

  • Remain silent and answer no questions
  • Provide an answer to the written questions in the attached document
  • Provide a prepared statement in your own words

The questionnaires were tailored to each individual being investigated, meaning they are likely to have been different for each person but this document gives a flavour of the questions Mr Johnson may have been asked.

A No 10 spokesperson said: “We have confirmed the prime minister has been contacted by the Metropolitan Police. We will not be commenting further while the investigation is ongoing.”

The leaked questionnaire.

Criminal law barrister Andrew Keogh told ITV News the questionnaire “suggests that this is not a thorough investigation”.

He said the questions posed are “as basic as you can possibly imagine them to be”.

“It just suggests that there’s no effort going into any real investigation of ascertaining who did what when and where and why.”

“This is anything but a rigorous investigation, it’s the direct opposite,” he said, “there’s just no effort gone into this at all”.

The prime minister is known to have taken legal advice before submitting his response last week, and is expected to argue that he did not violate the rules by attending several gatherings because Number 10 is both his place of work and his home.

More junior members of staff have told ITV News that they are concerned they won’t be able to afford the same standard of legal advice, potentially meaning that they are more likely to be fined than the prime minister.

Anyone who receives a questionnaire has seven days to respond, with the latest batch sent out yesterday, meaning the police investigation still has at least a week left to run.

Some of the questions visible in the leaked document. Credit: ITV News

Former Met Police Chief Superintendent Dal Babu told ITV News the questions were “pretty bland” and that a “lawyer would perhaps give you a ‘get out of jail card’ in response to all of those questions”.

“That’s why it doesn’t seem to be a particularly effective way of investigating the parties that have happened at Downing Street.”

“What you would expect is somebody to sit down with the individual, go through the questions,” he added.

Last week ITV News revealed that those under police investigation would be allowed to view the responses they gave in interviews with civil servant Sue Gray before they respond to the police questionnaire.

Ms Gray – who conducted the original internal investigation before passing police evidence which pushed them into announcing their own criminal probe – said people would only be able to view their own answers and no one else’s.

Among the package of evidence passed to police by Ms Gray was 300 photographs relevant to the partygate investigation – one of which allegedly shows the PM holding a beer.

But those photographs may never be made public after ITV News revealed the Cabinet Office had asked police to confirm that they would not be published.

The request emerged after ITV News was leaked a document sent by the Cabinet Office to the more than 50 staff being investigated, providing an update on the inquiry into 12 allegedly rule-breaking gatherings.

The document said: “The Met has said it has been handed more than 300 photographs as part of its investigation.

“Consistent with its indication that it will not publish the identities of anyone issued a FPN (fixed penalty notice), we would not expect the Met to publish photographs. The Liaison Unit has asked the Met to confirm this.”

The Met has confirmed that in line with policy it would not reveal the people who are issued with FPNs, however Number 10 has said it would be made public if the prime minister is fined.

Fines start at £100 for the first offence, growing to £200 for the second offence before doubling for each repeat offence before hitting the cap of £6,400.

Any individual is entitled to appeal their fine, which could see the appellant appear in court.

The prime minister has said he will have “a lot more to say” on the allegations against him after police conclude their investigation.

The hurried removal of remaining Covid restrictions is premature

Boris Johnson has been a man in a hurry as he removed the remaining Covid restrictions in England. He is right about one thing: we do need to “learn to live with this virus”. Yet the prime minister’s haste has been driven not by a desire to set people “free” but to throw “red meat” to hungry Conservative backbenchers.

Editorial www.independent.co.uk 

Some of his critics are on the libertarian wing of the party and for them, lifting the curbs cannot come a moment too soon. His living with Covid plan is part of a ploy to persuade Tory MPs to live with Mr Johnson, whatever their verdict on the final outcome of the Partygate investigations by the Metropolitan Police and senior civil servant Sue Gray.

Mr Johnson gave the game away when he preannounced at Prime Minister’s Questions on 9 February that he intended to end restrictions a month earlier than the originally planned date of 24 March – before any real debate with his cabinet or scientific advisers.

Yet his attempt to exploit what he calls “this moment of pride” for the country, as it lifts curbs ahead of many of its European counterparts, has not gone according to plan. The unwelcome news that the Queen has Covid is a reminder that the virus is still very much with us and cannot be waved away by a magic prime ministerial wand.

Then a cabinet meeting on Monday which had been expected to rubber stamp the changes was delayed by a dispute between the chancellor Rishi Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid over future funding for testing. As the cabinet struggled to agree on how we should “live with Covid”, it hardly inspired public confidence. In the event, Mr Javid appears to have failed to win the extra £5bn he requested and will have to find the money from his already stretched budget.

The provision of free universal tests to the public will end on 1 April after Mr Sunak baulked at the cost, which peaked at £2bn in January and will reach £15.7bn in the current financial year. This change is premature, at least while case numbers remain at their current level. An estimated 4 million people take regular Covid tests; those taking two a week could face a bill estimated at £500 a year.

The move might well prove a false economy because testing is one way of limiting the spread of the virus; the economy will hardly be helped if sick people pass on the disease to their work colleagues. Ministers might hope that employers pick up the tab for tests but many are struggling as we emerge from the pandemic and, like their employees, they will have higher national insurance contributions to pay from April. Maintaining widespread testing would also keep up the country’s guard against the new variants that are inevitable.

The decision to end from Thursday the legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive is another worrying step. The absence of adequate statutory sick pay – at £96.35 a week, the UK’s level is amongst the lowest in Europe – means that many workers, already facing a cost-of-living crisis, will simply not be able to afford to stay at home.

Although Mr Johnson conceded in his Commons statement that “the pandemic is not over” and that “Covid will not suddenly disappear”, there is a real danger his triumphalist approach sends the wrong signal and, crucially, gives people a false sense of security.

The time when he could claim to be “following the science” or “the data” has long since passed; he is following his instincts on how to survive in his job and to appeal to the Tory MPs who will decide his fate.

Mr Johnson wants to move from “government restrictions to personal responsibility”. However, in prematurely sweeping away some of the vital measures that enable people to protect themselves and others, his government has failed to live up to its own responsibility to protect public health.

Boris Johnson says Germans are better at staying home when ill – here’s why

[From Boris’ lecture on exercising personal responsibility – Owl]

www.indy100.com 

Boris Johnson suggests Britons should learn from Germany and stay off work …

Boris Johnson had everyone shouting at their television screens during his coronavirus press briefing last night.

While discussing his new ‘Living with Covid’ strategy, the PM triggered raised eyebrows when discussing work culture and sick pay, encouraging people to not go into work when they are ill by praising the culture in Germany.

He said: “In this country, I’ve often heard it said over the last couple of years, we have a habit of going back to work or going into work when we’re not well. People contrast that with Germany, for instance, where I’m told, they are much more disciplined about not going to work if you’re sick.

“I am just suggesting that might be something we could learn.”

His comments came in response to a question from ITV’s Robert Peston about the government’s plan to stop people being automatically eligible to statutory sick pay in the event that they fall ill from Covid. From 24 March, people will only be able to claim pay from day four of being off work and the £500 self-isolation support payment will also end.

The cut has been criticised by trade unions and the Labour Party who said they will “hit the lowest paid and the most insecure workers”.

Meanwhile, statutory sick pay is £96.35 a week in the UK, while in Germany people receive 100 per cent of their wages during the first six weeks of sickness.

People were quick to point this out on Twitter:

Speaking about the cuts to pay, Starmer said: “These are decisions which will hit the lowest paid and the most insecure workers the hardest, including care workers who got us through the toughest parts of the pandemic.

“It’s all very well advising workers to self isolate, but that won’t work unless all workers have security of knowing that they can afford to do so.”

Dan Shears, the GMB union’s national health and safety director, said the “nonsensical announcement guarantees workers will attend the workplace with Covid”.

He added: “This will prolong the pandemic with more outbreaks. Asking people to exercise responsibility whilst taking away a key workplace provision for them to do that just shows how incompetent this Government is.

“The UK’s poverty Statutory Sick Pay rates, among the lowest in Europe, are a public health hazard as workers cannot afford to stay home when they are ill.

“The situation will be made even worse in April when SSP is cut in real terms against a backdrop of rampant inflation.

“Restoring the three day limit is an act of national self-sabotage. It’s time for wholesale reform of Statutory Sick Pay rate.”