Most of the publicity and comment covering Thursday’s High Court Ruling on care homes was not in the national but regional press. 

For example:

“One city care home manager says that the sector was thrown into a ‘nightmare’ by the ‘policy failure’, while a Portsmouth MP has slammed the government’s ‘callous neglect’ of vulnerable people.”

City care sector faced ‘nightmare’ due to government’s ‘failure’ as High Court rules policies allowing untested hospital patients to be discharged into care homes to be ‘unlawful’

[Anyone heard any “slamming” from either Neil Parish and Simon Jupp or even an apology? – Owl]

Emily Jessica Turner 

In early 2020, patients were rapidly discharged into care homes without testing – despite the risk of asymptomatic transmission – with government documents showing there was no requirement for this until mid-April.

In a ruling made today, Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Garnham concluded that policies contained in documents released in March and early April 2020 were unlawful because they failed to take into account the risk to elderly and vulnerable residents from non-symptomatic transmission of the virus.

The government’s actions in allowing patients to be discharged into care homes at the start of the Covid pandemic has been declared unlawful as it did not take into account the risk of asymptomatic patients spreading the virus

They said that despite ‘growing awareness’ of the risk of asymptomatic transmission, there was no evidence that Mr Hancock or anyone advising him addressed the issue of this risk to care home residents in England.

A Freedom of Information request submitted by The News in 2020 revealed that 25 patients with the virus were sent to care homes from hospital as the pandemic hit.

The 25 discharged from Queen Alexandra Hospital and confirmed as having Covid were among nearly 400 released between March 1 and April 15 – with 206 placed in the community with no records held at QA of testing.

Steve Bonner is chairman of the Pompey Pensioners Association, a group calling on the city’s MPs to lobby government for change.

While he welcomes the High Court’s ruling, Steve believes it is crucial to ‘learn our lessons’ from what happened.

He said: ‘It’s belated, but better late than never.

‘It’s a situation that we shouldn’t have been put in – hospital beds being cleared and people being put in an area where there were vulnerable people being put at risk.

Andrea Pattison outside St Ronans Care Home. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘With the benefit of hindsight, it was an extremely dangerous move and no doubt significantly increased the number of deaths.

‘We’re the group that were put most at risk by that sort of activity.’

At the time, then health secretary Matt Hancock promised that a “protective ring” had been put around care homes nationally.

Andrea Pattison, owner of St Ronan’s Care Home in Southsea and member of the Hampshire Care Association, said: ‘The sector has been fully aware that there was no “protective ring” thrown around care homes – we’ve lived and worked through that nightmare together, and our amazing staff and residents did an outstanding job in the crisis.

‘It’s heartening to see that this element of policy failure is now recognised as such by law.

‘What we need now is accountability and chance – there’s a lot of talk of reform but we need changes that recognises people’s dignity and treats them with respect.

‘We need better funding in the system’.

Portsmouth South’s MP Stephen Morgan says that ministers ignored ‘alarm bells’, despite claiming to have thrown this “protective ring” around city care homes.

He added: ‘This is yet another sad reminder of how many people in our city needlessly died because of government’s callous neglect of the services we all rely on.

‘Ministers cannot claim they weren’t warned at the time and now they cannot claim to have acted to save lives. They broke the law and people died.

‘The government owes it to bereaved families in Portsmouth to make sure that this never happens again.’

Dave Sheppard, Bluewater Care Home in Buckland, said: ‘We were very fortunate and we avoided Covid. Our infection control was really red hot.

‘We put extra staff on, we were extra vigilant – we even purchased an extra spray machine and we got an extra cleaner to clean every surface.

‘There was loads of pressure – all of it could have been better dealt with.

‘It was difficult for every care home and for the residents.

‘Policies were changing by the week, and sometimes by the day – what was perfectly okay one day was illegal three days later.’

Roger Batterbury, chairperson of Healthwatch Portsmouth, said: ‘It’s very upsetting to the many families that have suffered as part of the government’s decisions during the height of the pandemic.

‘Healthwatch Portsmouth has always advised the public to follow the science and Government guidance on testing and social distancing.

‘The news of the High Court ruling though will clearly make uncomfortable reading for many people and trigger still-raw emotions.’

One person who spoke to the Healthwatch Portsmouth chairperson earlier today and who has been through this and lost a parent was very angry.

Roger added: ‘Today’s High Court ruling supports his concerns at the time about the government’s disregard for safety in their decision and the impact it had on patients relating to the practice of ‘no prior testing for COVID on hospital transfers’ of patients to Care Homes.

‘At HWP we feel deeply for the people still suffering or for whom this has brought back difficult emotions, we would advise anyone affected by the impact of today’s news to seek help.’

Penny Mordaunt MP has been approached for comment.

High Court ruling on discharge into care homes: should we now hold Abbeyfield and Devon County to account?

Or at least ask questions about how they justify pressing on with the Shandford care home closure during March 2020?

In Wednesday’s ruling the High Court found that two government policies were unlawful: the March 2020 Discharge Policy, which led to an influx of patients into care homes to free up hospital beds, and the April Admissions Guidance, which provided care homes with advice on admissions of people from hospitals. 

This ruling concerns the movement of patients from hospital to care homes with no testing or isolation period.

Here is what Owl wrote on 28 March 2020 questioning the wisdom of moving frail and vulnerable care home residents from one home to another to meet a commercial objective as Covid-19 raged, infection rates doubling every three days:

Despite a national lockdown care home residents are being shuffled from one home to another.

“Abbeyfield appear intent on moving two frail residents from Shandford on Monday to other care homes, despite the country being in lockdown.  

Owl has been deluged by local comment since this story appeared on-line a couple of days ago. This is Owl’s attempt at putting these in context.

The country is in a form of lockdown described as: stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives, allowing limited movement outside the home for essential purposes.

This week the most vulnerable were sent a letter instructing them to stay at home and not to move outside for any reason. These would have included the sort of vulnerable centenarians, resident in the Abbeyfield “Shandford” care home.

Yesterday, the national restrictions were further tightened when healthy people contracted to move house, even as soon as this weekend, were advised not to.

Despite this national emergency, Owl understands, Abbeyfield are intent in moving the frail and vulnerable out of Shandford to meet their self imposed deadline to close the home. Apparently, at least two are scheduled to leave on Monday. When the safety of this has been questioned the reply given by Devon County Council is that this is in accordance with “existing protocols” . [To a correspondent via email]

Owl finds this incomprehensible. Unfortunately, Covid-19 has breezed through “existing protocols” which is why we are facing an uncontrolled epidemic with infections doubling every three days. Covid-19 is spread by person to person contact. Shuffling people around is recklessly irresponsible, “existing protocols” must be torn up and common sense applied or our collective attempts at achieving control will fail.

To date Covid-19 restrictions appear to have kept Shandford open for longer than Abbeyfield intended. Owl understands that Shandford could have been saved. Amica Care Trust had made approaches to take over the home. Simon Jupp MP had tried to facilitate this.with no success. A local “Save our Shandford” organisation could have formed the nucleus of providing a local source of fundraising. An attempt at creating a Community Interest Company to take Shandford back into local control has been frustrated by Abbeyfield’s refusal to disclose details of the 2012 deed of transfer, when local control was ceded to Abbeyfield. 

Owl has been told all monies will be returned to the Town when the site is sold. So Owl is puzzled by why Abbeyfield appears intent on “realising the assets” at the start of an economic crash, rather than transfer it to Amica or back to local control as a going concern.

To Owl this appears a scorched earth policy.”

Neil Parish but NOT Simon Jupp sanctioned by Russia

  • Russia says it has banned 287 UK MPs from entering the country in retaliation to sanctions.
  • Russia’s foreign ministry said the bans are because British MPs are creating “Russophobic hysteria.”
  • The list only includes 286 names, with one MP duplicated, and a number of no longer serving politicians listed.

Today’s Western Morning News reports a number of Devon MPs on the list including Luke Pollard, Johnny Mercer and Sir Gary Streeter, along with former Totnes Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston.

Speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions shortly after the list was published, Boris Johnson said those on the list “should regard it as a badge of honour”.

Full list can be found here

Look away Now, Lord Agnew

From yesterday’s Politico London Newsletter

Today’s Times splash has astonishing revelations of the ways people misused and abused the COVID loan scheme that was set up to support businesses during the pandemic, up to the extreme of Border Force officials stopping people carrying suitcases filled with COVID loan cash at airports. In another example, a builder obtained the maximum COVID bounce-back loan of £50,000 by claiming his firm had turned over at least £200,000 the previous year — when prior to receipt of the loan his firm’s account balance stood at £2.72 in credit. The builder then admitted he spent the loan playing poker. Well worth reading the full investigation by George Greenwood and James Hurley here.

[Lord Agnew resigned in parliament (January) after £4.3bn write-off, saying oversight of loans scheme had been ‘nothing less than woeful’]

Javid used offshore trust while working at Treasury

Sajid Javid used an offshore trust while working as an MP in the heart of the Treasury – but did not declare it in the register of members’ interests, The Independent can reveal.

Anna Isaac

As the then chancellor George Osborne’s parliamentary private secretary (PPS) in 2011, Mr Javid – now health secretary – played a key role in selling the Coalition government’s austerity policies to MPs.

But at the same time, Mr Javid was using a trust, understood to have been located in a tax haven, to cut his personal tax burden. He also served in the Treasury while the government launched a consultation on policies covering non-doms and overseas trusts in December 2011.

Earlier this month, Mr Javid admitted he had used non-dom status before entering politics and to having had an offshore trust, but it is only now that it has been revealed that he did not declare the trust as an MP and PPS.

The ministerial code states that while PPSs, who act as ministerial aides, are not technically members of the government “they must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their role as a parliamentary private secretary, and their private interests”.

It was only on becoming a government minister in 2012 that former banker Mr Javid revealed more details on the extent of his overseas assets and how they were managed.

“If Sajid Javid held money in an offshore trust while he was part of the Treasury, it would raise further questions about decision making in this government,” said James Murray, shadow financial secretary to the Treasury.

“It is rank hypocrisy for senior ministers to defend the tax hike hitting working people this year, when they have spent so many years avoiding their fair share of tax themselves.”

Earlier this month Mr Javid admitted he had used non-dom status to cut his tax bill after The Independent revealed that Akshata Murty, the chancellor’s wife, exploited the same route to cut her tax bill in the UK. Ms Murty subsequently decided to pay tax on her worldwide income in the UK, but has retained non-dom status.

Offshore trusts and use of non-dom status are entirely legal methods of limiting taxes.

Mr Javid’s trust was not listed in his entry in the register of members’ interests in 2011, but he did declare a shareholding in Deutsche Bank, his former employer.

A spokesman for Mr Javid declined to say if the assets in the trust – which Mr Javid said in a statement he dissolved in 2012 – included these Deutsche Bank shares as well as other assets, including shares in different companies. They also declined to say whether this trust was operated as a blind trust or under a blind management arrangement, or say where it was located.

The health secretary did not collapse the offshore trust until the year after he entered the Treasury. He stopped making use of the controversial non-dom tax status in 2009, before entering politics.

“Sajid has been very open and transparent about his previous tax status in the UK and when he lived abroad. He has nothing further to add,” a spokesman for the health and social care secretary said.

When he dissolved his trust, Mr Javid, incurred a rate of 50 per cent tax, which he claimed offset any “accrued benefit” from the financial arrangement.

He also said that he had always declared the information required by tax, governmental, and parliamentary authorities.

“The public has a right to know which ministers have benefited from tax avoidance arrangements and how much money they have saved as a result,” Mr Murray said.

“While the Tories are raising taxes on working people as inflation and energy bills soar, Labour would make the tax system fairer. We would abolish the outdated ‘non-dom’ system, so that everyone who makes their home in Britain pays tax here on all their income,” he added.

The fresh examination of the timeline laid out by Mr Javid reveals he was at the government’s political front line, selling tough austerity policies to Tory backbenchers in the aftermath of the financial crisis, while exploiting mechanisms to protect his wealth.

During his time as a banker, Mr Javid – himself a former chancellor – was linked to Dark Blue Investments, an employee benefit trust in which staff were paid share bonuses via trusts to avoid tax. The supreme court ruled that tax ought to be paid on these bonuses.

Experts have queried Mr Javid’s use of non-dom status, given that he was born in the UK and therefore would have had to declare that he did not intend to live in the country in the long term.

Selaine Saxyby’s Westminster Hall  Debate on Affordable Housing (Devon and Cornwall) 

The debate was held on Wednesday and the record can be found here

The purpose of these debates is simply  to raise the profile of the issue being discussed. A Minister has to be present and respond.

Here are just a few extracts:

Sir Geoffrey Cox (yes him, the rich baritone and defender of tax havens)

(Torridge and West Devon) (Con)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the situation at the moment allows landlords to buy up good residences in towns such as Barnstaple and Bideford, register themselves as businesses, apply for small business interest rate relief, pay nothing to the community, either in council tax or business rates, and provide very little by way of employment, and that that racket has to be stopped?

Selaine Saxby 

(North Devon) (Con)

…I believe that we also need to go beyond just tackling business rates on short-term holiday lets; we need to tackle the inequalities between mortgage relief on long-term and short-term rentals, which are viewed as capital assets. Their profits are taxed differently, as returns on capital. Both types of property were built as homes, and they should be taxed comparably. Without a register of short-term holiday lets, I imagine that many are paying no tax at all, which is another opportunity for the Treasury. This is a step that could be taken rapidly to make the private rental sector more appealing to landlords, which is ultimately a step that we need to take quickly in order to begin to provide more housing in the south-west….

…..Will my right hon. Friend the Minister commit to assist our planning departments to reverse building where appropriate, to stop building properties solely for holiday lets or second homes, and to have a clause that exempts people from living there full time? It is one thing for holiday parks, which are designed that way, but actual housing is being built with this restriction in place along the North Devon coast. Clearly that is needed on occasion, but as we have such a shortage of long-term housing, can we not focus on this, given that we are short of the other necessary resources—land, builders and materials?

Will my right hon. Friend the Minister also commit to work with the Treasury to look at taxation reforms and how to tackle the issue of empty properties? We have an abundance of them in North Devon, but it is simply not viable for the council to spend its time and resource on tackling this issue. If we could breathe life into empty buildings, we could take steps to regenerate additional housing, without building all over the beautiful fields of North Devon. I keep being told that the councils have it in their remit to convert space above empty shops into homes. Will someone please come to Barnstaple and make that happen? We have so many empty units with huge storage areas, rather than flats, above them, and tackling this issue could transform our town centre as well as provide vital accommodation.

Finally, please can steps be taken to tackle the issue of viability and barriers to councils being able to build developments with more than an 18% social housing component? I know that we English believe that our home is our castle, but far too many of the residents of North Devon worry about not having a home at all. That causes mental health issues, which are exacerbated further by having so many shortages in mental health services, as we cannot recruit to fill the vacancies.

Many Devon MPs made contributions (eg Ben Bradford, Luke Pollard, Gary Streeter and Anthony Mangnall) but, of these, Owl found the brief interjections from Simon Jupp and Neil Parish the least impressive. Readers can check this for themselves.

“East Devon deserves better” Simon.

Nadine Dorries could intervene over Archant deal

She said that she was “minded” to issue an intervention notice, which would lead to the sale being blocked.

Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, is poised to intervene in a takeover by the local newspaper group Newsquest of its rival Archant.

Newsquest, which publishes titles including The Northern Echo and the Lancashire Telegraph, sealed a deal last month to buy the East Anglia-based company. Archant, which was sold by the private equity firm Rcapital, owns newspapers including the Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News plus the regional Country Life magazines. It employs 760 staff.

Dorries said that she was “minded” to issue an intervention notice, which would lead to the sale being blocked.

In-depth analysis and comment on the latest financial and economic news from our award-winning Business teams.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said in a letter to the groups that Dorries has “plurality concerns” over how the merger could impact competition where the two companies operate.

“The merger will see the two largest local newspaper groups in East Anglia combining,” the letter said.

“While news will still be available for consumers from other local and national providers (ie. radio, TV and online) . . . the majority of local newspapers will come under single ownership. Such concentration of ownership has the potential to impact the plurality of views available in local newspapers in East Anglia.

“This risk may be exacerbated by any potential restructuring within Archant’s titles, a possibility that has been subject to press speculation.”

The culture secretary has asked for reports by two watchdogs, the Competition and Markets Authority and Ofcom, before deciding whether a full investigation is needed by the competition regulator.

East Devon leader attacks Tories’ Russian links

East Devon Tories have released a fiery statement accusing the leader of the district council of having “extremely left-wing views” after he suggested potential funding links between East Devon Conservatives and Russian oligarchs. 

Dare to question Tory allegiances and look what nonsense they come up with, not that clairvoyant Owl hadn’t foreseen this sort of thing in February.

Are they getting jumpy?

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter

Paul Arnott leads the East Devon Alliance (courtesy: Paul Arnott)

Conservatives retort he’s extreme left-winger

In their letter, they accuse East Devon District Council (EDDC) leader Paul Arnott (Coly Valley), head of the Democratic Alliance Group coalition running the council, of having a “remarkable chip on his shoulder” and of appearing to “believe  that any successful businessman can only have done it through dubious means.”

The response follows a column published by councillor Arnott published by the Exmouth Journal last Sunday [24 May]. 

In the piece, Cllr Arnott referred to a previous article he had written which questioned the fundraising tactics of East Devon Conservatives, saying that former East Devon Tory MP Sir Hugo Swire had a “fondness” for raising party funds “at exclusive auctions from close associates and family of Russian oligarchs.”

In his latest article, Cllr Arnott challenged the East Devon Conservatives to “confirm none of their past local campaigning has drawn on their Russian-sourced HQ funding, and confirm that future elections and campaigns will be wholly free of that dirty money?” 

He also asked them to join him “in an appeal to the PM that all Russian cash in their bulging funding pot is returned.”

The council leader also questioned how the local Tory group had obtained the funding for glossy leaflets and a newly advertised role for a campaign manager.

He added: “In some ways, independents such as me should take this as a compliment. The Tories have obviously lost all confidence in their local ability on the ground to run any kind of campaign.

“Lucky them, though. People like me standing have to raise every penny for leaflets on our own, with a tiny amount of help in my case from my group, the East Devon Alliance, with the odd sign or placard.”

In response, East Devon Conservatives published a blistering statement on Wednesday [27 April] stating they only receive money from membership fees and donations from local residents and local fundraising activities. “There is no national (still less international!) money provided for local Devon campaigns”, they added.

Defending their leafleting campaign and new campaign manager job they said: “East Devon Conservatives more often than not have employed professional campaign staff with money being raised locally and the recent job advertisement is nothing unusual. 

“From time to time, we issue newsletters to residents and not just at election time. We believe residents should be kept informed.”

The rebuttal then goes on the counter-attack, criticising EDDC’s recent decision to double car parking charges in 21 council-run seaside car parks, describing the move as “arrogant and insensitive”. The council also raised fees by 50 per cent in five other ‘prime location’ car parks. 

The council leadership has defended the rise, the first in 12 years, saying it was needed to raise £1.1 million extra a year to help pay for essential public services.

The Tory statement also criticises the council’s leadership for its handling of rent charges for businesses wanting to offer outdoor seating at Exmouth’s town centre square, the Strand.

The issue was resolved last month after the council backtracked on its initial proposals, eventually reaching “mutually agreeable rents” between the vendors and the council.

The statement slams the independent group for hiring new council staff “whilst apparently lacking the resources to pay for them” and for spending thousands of pounds on an unpublished Local Government Association report on an employment dispute. [See this EDW post for the explanation of this particular attack levelled in the Tory leaflet “Keeping in Touch; and this post for the most hypocritical.]

[Their announcement concludes: “Being a so-called independent should mean that you are open to working with everyone, yet the mask slips all too often with the East Devon Alliance Party.

“Cllr Arnott would be wise to concentrate his columns on his council’s achievements rather than attack others. We understand that may mean we see fewer of his contributions.”