Liz Truss failed to meet any water bosses over sewage dumping in two years in environment post

Her “efficiencies” included a £24m reduction to grants for environmental protection, including surveillance of water companies to prevent the dumping of raw sewage, the National Audit Office said.

Meanwhile pollution alerts today, 27 August at Charmouth and Perranporth.

Rob Merrick www.independent.co.uk

Liz Truss failed to hold any meetings with water bosses over the dumping of raw sewage in two years as environment secretary, despite the practice having been ruled illegal.

The likely next prime minister is facing fresh questions about her responsibility for the sewage scandal after records revealed her only talks were to discuss a bug linked to severe stomach upsets.

Yet, two years before Ms Truss took over the environment post in 2014, the UK was found guilty of breaching EU laws over sewage in waterways and given five years to clean up its act.

Labour called the lack of meetings “beyond belief”, accusing the Tory leadership race favourite and her party of “treating Britain as an open sewer”.

Feargal Sharkey, the campaigner for clean water and former musician, told The Independent: “This is absolutely shocking – Truss acted like an absentee landlord while the water companies exploited a national resource.

“The government fiddled the system to hand control and oversight of pollution to the water industry, while the regulator was like a 12-year-old smoking behind the school bike sheds.”

The revelation comes after Ms Truss came under fire for cutting tens of millions of pounds of funding earmarked for tackling water pollution while in the environment brief between 2014 and 2016.

Since 2016, raw sewage discharge in England and Wales has more than doubled, from 14.7 spill events for each overflow to 29.3 in 2021, separate figures have shown.

The summer holidays have been blighted by swimmers being warned to stay out of the water at more than 50 of Britain’s beaches, as the privatised firms continue to pump sewage into the sea.

At party hustings, Ms Truss sought to blame regulators for the problem, accusing them of “mission creep” and saying of the water companies: “They need to be better at dealing with pollution and we need to sort that out.”

But Labour’s research reveals that only one of more than 150 listed meetings she held while environment secretary was with a water company – with United Utilities, to discuss the parasite cryptosporidium.

Jim McMahon, the shadow environment secretary, said: “For Liz Truss to have only ever had one conversation with a water company and none on sewage dumping is beyond belief.

“It shows a lack of leadership on a serious issue that blights our country’s areas of beauty and risks our health.

“Given her actions in actively dismantling the services that protect our natural environment, which led to a sewage surge, it begs the question: what else Liz Truss touches turns to crap?”

Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of the campaign group Surfers Against Sewage, said: “Liz Truss not only neutered the regulator but enabled water companies to profit from a system that was never fit for purpose.

“Since privatisation in 1989, the industry has ignored its mandate to invest in infrastructure upgrades, instead hosing their profits on dividends and bonuses.”

During hustings last Tuesday, Ms Truss defended her cuts to anti-pollution funding – while the water company bosses have been allowed to enjoy bumper bonuses.

Her “efficiencies” included a £24m reduction to grants for environmental protection, including surveillance of water companies to prevent the dumping of raw sewage, the National Audit Office said.

The Environment Agency has pleaded for both the cuts and its power to properly monitor water companies to be restored – instead of allowing the industry to self-report discharges.

But Ms Truss replied: “There are plenty of things the Environment Agency were doing, that they shouldn’t have been doing,” – without setting out what they were.

The leadership candidate has been asked to respond to the criticism of her for not meeting water companies over the two-year period.

Crime Commissioner calls for police to a visible presence across Devon

“Even I don’t believe there’s 3,610; we’ve got to get them out and visible” Alison Hernandez.

No wonder Shaun Sawyer is going! – Owl

Lewis Clarke www.devonlive.com

The Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has called for a more visible presence of officers across the region. The PCC Alison Hernandez was visiting Tiverton and the constituency’s newly elected MP, Richard Foord, when they met at the Lowman Green station on Tuesday, August 16.

Ms Hernandez said: “The biggest thing, regardless of what resources policing has, is that police officers and staff work relentlessly and tirelessly to try and keep crime out of Devon and Cornwall. We are the second safest area in the country, and we are about to have the highest number of police officers we’ve ever had of 3,610. We must help our community believe they are on their side by being more visible. Even I don’t believe there’s 3,610; we’ve got to get them out and visible.

“That’s the job of the new chief constable that I’m in the process of recruiting at the moment, and I look forward to announcing who that will be soon.”

She spoke about the reopening of the station’s front desk, which is due to take place in November.

She said: “The job adverts have been out and I’d like to thank everybody who promoted those available jobs. We should have a fantastic member of staff who will be here Monday to Friday, 10 am until 3 pm, and we can’t wait to get it open.”

Despite Ms Hernandez campaigning for the Conservatives, she welcomed new Liberal Democrat MP Richard Foord to Tiverton: “We want somebody who’s here to represent the community, who can go to their MP and share with them the issues that are affecting them in this constituency.

“I’m here as well as the PCC, but the MP has access to Government departments and to caseworkers who can help them support a community member in trying to get an issue dealt with.

“Policing is here for people, and if there are issues, I want them to report them to the police. I know that our 101 phone line is really busy, particularly during the summer, but there’s the online report, webchat, email, and Crime Stoppers. I’m encouraging people to report, particularly drug dealing, on 0800 555 111 completely anonymous.”

Mr Foord said he had been impressed with the hard work of officers in Tiverton and across Mid Devon.

“We’re both here today to talk about policing across Tiverton and Honiton,” he said. “We just had some members of the public come up to us and tell us about some issues that are affecting them, and I think that illustrates how opening a front desk is very effective at engaging with the community. I’d also like to see that happening at the Honiton police station.

“I’m seeing the fantastic work today of police not just in Tiverton, but across constituency area. They’re working as hard as they can with their limited resources.

“I’m certainly behind the front desk opening here in Tiverton. As a Liberal Democrat MP, I would like to see more resources put into policing. I know that across Devon and Cornwall Constabulary last year, 21,000 crimes were closed without a suspect being identified. Of course, these are the things that can be overcome with more resources for policing by the Government.”

He added that issues of antisocial behaviour were regularly brought up while out campaigning. He said: “People often talk to me about antisocial behaviour in towns. Racist graffiti is something I’ve already had constituents coming to me with concerns about, and I think we need to get on top of that before it becomes a bigger issue in the community.”

UK government’s sewage spills strategy is ‘cruel joke’, say critics

“This is a government trying to spin its way out of a problem it only sees as needing to manage from a PR perspective. Our rivers and coasts are paying the price for this complacency and the public are angry.”

Helena Horton www.theguardian.com 

The UK government’s strategy to tackle sewage discharges is a “cruel joke”, critics have said, after ministers laid out plans to stop the pollution.

George Eustice, the environment secretary, announced that water companies would have to invest £56bn over 25 years into a long-term programme to tackle storm sewage discharges by 2050.

This investment will be used to increase the capacity of companies’ networks and treat sewage before it is discharged to protect public health and prevent pollution, while also reducing all discharges. Failure to meet these targets, the government said, could lead to firms facing substantial fines or having to return money to customers.

However, critics say these payments will end up being put on customers’ bills and force the public to pay as chief executives continue to receive large bonuses.

Under government plans, by 2035 water companies will have to improve all storm overflows discharging into or near every designated bathing water, and improve 75% of overflows discharging to high-priority nature sites. By 2050, this will apply to all waterways.

But according to analysis of the proposals by the Liberal Democrats, by 2030 there will still be 325,000 sewage dumps a year on Britain’s beaches, as well as in lakes, rivers and chalk streams.

The Lib Dems’ environment spokesperson, Tim Farron, said: “This government plan is a licence to pump sewage on to our beaches and in our treasured rivers and lakes. By the time these flimsy targets come into effect, our beaches would have been pumped full of disgusting sewage, more otters will be poisoned and our children will still be swimming in dangerous water.

“This is a cruel joke. The government is going to hike water bills to pay for cleaning up the mess made by water companies. The same companies who awarded their executives multimillion-pound bonuses this year and paid out over £1bn to their shareholders. Whilst they roll in the cash, we swim in sewage. The whole thing stinks.”

The government has said that under its plans, bills will not go up until 2025. Sources also said they would not allow companies to profit from environmental damage.

Annual bonuses paid to water company executives rose by 20% in 2021, despite most of the firms failing to meet sewage pollution targets. Figures show that on average executives received £100,000 in one-off payments on top of their salaries, during a period in which foul water was being pumped for 2.7m hours into England’s rivers and swimming spots.

Eustice said: “This is the first government to take action to end the environmental damage caused by sewage spills. We will require water companies to protect everyone who uses our water for recreation, and ensure storm overflows pose no threat to the environment.

“Water companies will need to invest to stop unacceptable sewage spills so our rivers and coastlines can have greater protection than ever before.”

Jim McMahon, the shadow environment secretary, said: “Instead of governing, it’s clear that the Conservatives have taken up writing fiction, as this document is neither a plan, nor does it eliminate sewage dumping into our natural environment. Under the government’s weak improvement ‘target’, based on last year’s data we’d face another 4.8m sewage spill events in our country between now and 2035.

“Last year Tory MPs had the opportunity to vote meaningful action into law, but blocked measures that would have progressively eliminated the discharge of raw sewage in our natural environment.

“Britain deserves better than a zombie Tory government that is happy for our country to be treated as an open sewer. Labour will use the levers of power to hold reckless water bosses to account legally and financially, and toughen regulations to prevent them from gaming the system.”

Stuart Singleton-White, head of campaigns at the Angling Trust, said: “Defra’s claim these are the strictest targets ever for water companies … sounds impressive. It isn’t, and the government know this is a weak plan that falls short of what is needed. What’s more, this plan falls short of the commitments made in the Environment Act and fails to take on board the recommendations of its own storm overflow taskforce.

“This is a government trying to spin its way out of a problem it only sees as needing to manage from a PR perspective. Our rivers and coasts are paying the price for this complacency and the public are angry.”

More on “None of the Above”

Rishi Sunak Says Scientists Were Too ‘Empowered’ Over Covid Lockdowns

Rishi Sunak says he “wasn’t allowed to talk about the trade-off” of lockdowns during earlier phases of the pandemic, criticising government public health interventions and scientific advisors.

Ned Simons www.huffingtonpost.co.uk 

The Tory leadership contender said one of the government’s biggest mistakes was giving too much power to scientists and claimed the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) edited its minutes to hide dissenting opinions.

The former chancellor made the statements in an interview with the Spectator magazine.

“We shouldn’t have empowered the scientists in the way we did,” he said.

“And you have to acknowledge trade-offs from the beginning. If we’d done all of that, we could be in a very different place. We’d probably have made different decisions on things like schools.”

Sunak added it had been “wrong to scare people” during the pandemic with images such as posters showing Covid patients on ventilators.

Sunak claimed Sage removed some opinions from its final minutes, but said a Treasury official would listen to the meetings and brief him on the omissions.

“The Sage people didn’t realise for a very long time that there was a Treasury person on all their calls,” he said.

But Lee Cain, who was No.10 communications director during the period of the pandemic, hit back.

“Huge admirer of Rishi Sunak but his position on lockdown is simply wrong,” he said.

“It would have been morally irresponsible of the govt not to implement lockdown in spring 2020 – the failure to do so would have killed tens-of-thousands of people who survived Covid.”

It comes as Sunak prepares to go head-to-head with Liz Truss once again in the penultimate hustings of the leadership race on Thursday.

Ahead of the Norwich hustings Truss put her focus squarely on the issues facing the East Anglian area, citing her plans of tax cuts, supply-side reform, better regulation and targeted investment zones.

Truss also pledged to tackle trade union strike action, such as that at the Port of Felixstowe this week.

Could Feniton flooding be a thing of the past?

Work starts next week

Network Rail’s contractors are making use of a five-day rail closure for works elsewhere on the railway with work starting on Bank Holiday Monday, 29 August.  

www.radioexe.co.uk 

Feniton floods frequently (image courtesy: East Devon District Council)

The end is in sight for floods in Fention, according to claims by East Devon District Council.

Work is to begin on the undertrack rail crossing for a new culvert pipe that is a key element to the village’s flood scheme.

It is the third phase of a flood prevention scheme and will link to drainage works which will divert surface water from around the village.

The completed scheme will reduce the flood risk to the 65 homes plus help prevent disruption to the primary school and local transport.

The railway crossing work has been planned for many years but has been delayed due to its high risk, complex nature, and funding for the project.

However, the Network Rail’s contractors are making use of a five-day rail closure for works elsewhere on the railway with work starting on Bank Holiday Monday, 29 August.  

The scheme will involve the building of a works compound and a manhole chamber on either side of the railway, before making use of the railway closure for engineering works to place the culvert under the railway.

The work is due to completed by 7 October. 

The council doesn’t want people to congregate on the highway bridge. They say it is too narrow with no footway and will have increased vehicle movements during the work.

Both sides of the railway are private property with no public access

Second homeowners in Cornwall urged to donate £400 energy rebate

If every second homeowner in Cornwall took part, £5.4m could be re-distributed from the “uber-rich”, who would hardly notice the payment, to people who desperately need help in one of northern Europe’s poorest regions.

Any comments from Rishi or  “No Handouts” Liz? – Owl

Steven Morris www.theguardian.com 

Second homeowners in Cornwall are being urged to donate their £400 government energy rebates to impoverished neighbours facing hardship this winter through a scheme launched on Friday and backed by business leaders, charities and politicians.

Those behind the Donate the Rebate scheme says that if every second homeowner in Cornwall took part, £5.4m could be re-distributed from the “uber-rich”, who would hardly notice the payment, to people who desperately need help in one of northern Europe’s poorest regions.

The number of people asking for food parcels in parts of Cornwall has increased by 75% in the past 12 months, while 1,500 people are in emergency accommodation and more than 21,000 are on housing waiting lists. At the same time property prices continue to increase, inflated by people from other parts of the UK snapping up homes as bolt-holes or as investments.

Rob Love, the chief executive and co-founder of Crowdfunder, which has set up the campaign and has its headquarters close to the beach in Newquay, north Cornwall, said it was a way of redistributing money from the “haves to the have-nots”.

He said: “In times like these, we cannot just rely on governments, charities or corporations: we need a more efficient way to redistribute wealth to those who really need it. We’ve got to get ourselves out of this national emergency and everyone has got to play a part.”

Love said he thought the government’s energy bills support scheme was “quite generous” but added: “It doesn’t get all the money to the right people.”

He pointed out that millions of pounds would be going to wealthy people – probably including some MPs – who owned properties in Cornish second home hotspots such as Rock, St Ives and St Mawes. “We’re not against second homeowners. We’re not angry with them and we’re not hassling the government. We are providing a mechanism that gets the money to the right places.”

Second homeowners who want to take part are being asked to go on to the Donate the Rebate site and specify the Cornish charity they would like their rebate to go to. Love said Cornwall was the obvious place to start but he hoped to expand the scheme to other places with lots of second homes.

Monique Collins, the manager of Disc, a drop-in and share centre in Newquay, one of the organisations that will benefit from the scheme, said it was currently helping providing food and help with electricity bills to 98 families and 55 single people – an increase of 75% on this time last year – and she expected the number to double this winter.

“I’m dreading the autumn and winter,” she said. “We’re heading for a catastrophe. Newquay and places like it have become a playground for the uber-rich and they need to contribute.”

Harriet, 23, who uses Disc, said her situation was “dire”. The mother of a 15-month-old boy, Noah, said her electricity bill had trebled since March. “I don’t know what I’m going to do this winter. It may be a choice between food and power. Already I haven’t been able to do a proper food shop since May. I make sure Noah has his food but then buy bits and pieces for me as I go along.”

She said she got angry when she walked around Newquay and saw people in luxurious second homes. “It’s so unfair. Expensive apartments are being built when what we need is affordable homes.”

Julian German, a Cornwall councillor whose patch includes St Mawes, said: “We have an obligation to our neighbours who are struggling, to help them where we can. The poverty some people are facing in Cornwall is astounding.”

Kim Conchie, the chief executive of Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, said: “People shouldn’t have to choose between feeding their families or turning the heating on this winter. We have got a fundamental disparity between people who live here and those who have second homes here.”

He said he believed many people who had visited second homes for years and had made connections in the community would donate – but accepted that hard-nosed investors looking to make a profit out of a Cornish property might be harder to reach.

“Second homeowners have a duty if they are going to benefit from the wonderful place we live and work in to contribute. I think this is a fantastic moment when they can really make a gesture. Every second homeowner should be doing this, to salve their conscience and make a difference.”

Details of the campaign can be found at www.poor-nextdoor.com.

Disgraced ‘tractor porn MP’ Neil Parish plots political comeback

“Neil, you are no Claire Wright!” – forget it and stick to farming – Owl

Neil Parish is plotting a remarkable political comeback. The disgraced former Tory MP, who quit after being found watching porn in the House of Commons after claiming he was searching for a combine harvester online, is looking for redemption.

David Parsley inews.co.uk 

And he hopes to find that by standing as an independent in the Tiverton and Honiton seat he was forced out of earlier this year.

This would mean overturning the 6,144 majority won in spectacular style by the Liberal Democrats’ Richard Foord, who overturned Parish’s own 24,239 majority in June – the largest ever majority lost in by-election history.

“I’ll run as an independent if I think I can win,” the 66-year-old farmer reveals.

“Am I trying to rehabilitate myself? Well, yes, it is partly that, but it’s also I do have a genuine desire to continue to fight for what I have done throughout my political career.

“I think I can do some good both for people, for food, for farming, for society.”

He rules out running for reselection as a Tory – “once you’re out you’re out” he notes, “I don’t think they would have me.”

If he does run as an independent he may be up against his successor as the Tory candidate – Helen Hurford – who told BBC Radio Devon listeners last week that she will not be a “one-trick pony” and intends to have another shot at the seat next time round.

Having spoken to hundreds of Tory voters during June’s by-election it was clear to me that Mr Parish remained a local favourite.

“He was a silly boy wasn’t he, but it’s not on the same level as what other Tory MPs have been up to,” was the sort of comment many Tories in the constituency would make.

The election is probably two years away, however. So having got over the shock of being ousted after 12 years in Parliament Mr Parish, a farmer and former Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, is about to launch an agricultural podcast.

“When it all happens, you feel as though you have to race around for solutions,” he says of the furore that surrounded his Commons breach. “I’ve stopped racing and I’m taking things more calmly now.

“I think I’ve arrived at a point where I’m accepting of the situation, and I’m moving onto something where I think I can do some good for people.”

So, part one of his redemption will see him launch a new career in broadcasting with a podcast on which he will discuss the issues of interest to him and many of his constituents – farming.

Perhaps the theme tune could be a certain smash hit from West Country legends The Wurzels.

“I’m not sure when it will launch, maybe next month,” says Mr Parish. “It will be looking at the sort of the interests I’ve had in in Parliament in the constituency, which are food, farming, and environmental issues like rewilding.

“I’m developing it as I go along really, but the initial idea is that I will get guests on, experts in each topic we are covering.”

Mr Parish runs his own family farm – hence his interest in the Claas Dominator combine harvester that got him into trouble in the first place – and hopes the podcast will get him back amongst it with his former voters. If that proves successful, then part two of the plan may not appear as ambitious as it first sounds.

Like pretty much everyone else, Mr Parish is convinced Liz Truss will win the keys to No 10, but he, and his wife Sue, voted for her opponent and former Chancellor Rishi Sunak. However, he has not been impressed with how the leadership election has gone down with voters so far.

“It’s been fairly disastrous, to be honest,” he says. “They’ve not really come up with anything terribly dramatic. Nothing to really tackle to cost-of-living crisis. I have some fear and trepidation, to be honest with you, about where it’s all going.

“I just think at this particular moment in time, we’ve got to concentrate on getting people through the energy bill crisis.

“The question for the Conservative Party is will they settle down, under whoever is leader? I’m going to hold fire on that one and give them some time, as I think the country will.”

He does not, however, hold fire on Ms Truss’ tax cutting strategy to ease the economic pain already hitting millions of households across the nation – and show he’s still a politician.

“Tax cuts, in the long run, can stimulate an economy but I think in the short term that they won’t, and they could be inflationary. We’re already talking about 18 per cent inflation, so I just don’t think this is the right time to cut taxes.

“Even Margaret Thatcher, in the first instance didn’t cut taxes. She only did that later, after she’d got inflation under control.”

PS Neil Parish voted alongside Simon Jupp last October to defeat the Lords amendment which would have placed a legal duty on water companies in England and Wales “to make improvements to their sewerage systems and demonstrate progressive reductions in the harm caused by discharges of untreated sewage.

Octopus boss denounces ‘outdated’ link between electricity and gas prices 

The way the cost of renewable electricity is determined in the UK’s energy market is “bonkers”, Octopus Group Founder and Chief Executive Officer has suggested.

Dimitris Mavrokefalidis www.energylivenews.com 

Greg Jackson said: “The UK has an outdated way of running its electricity market, which is why renewable electricity is costing more during a gas crisis.

“The way it works is that every half hour there’s a single price for electricity in the UK, and it’s set by a process in which National Grid procure the generation to meet our needs from generators every half hour. And they pay a single national price to all those generators.

“So, companies like Octopus face a single price regardless of whether we are buying renewable or non-renewable electricity. In fact, to make it worse, renewable typically costs more because we either have to pay for certification or to pay for what’s called balancing costs.”

Business Secretary had previously stressed that the link between gas and electricity prices cannot stay forever.

Mr Jackson explained that companies are not paying only the national price of electricity, which is set by gas, but they pay extra costs on top for it to be renewable.

Octopus boss added: “This is bonkers. Fundamentally, we need a market reform that enables all to see the benefit of cheaper, renewable electricity. What we really need is market reform and dramatically more renewable generation to bring the cost down.”

Last week, energy suppliers, including ScottishPower and E.ON called on the government to create a ‘special fund’ that would enable the industry to ‘freeze’ customers’ bills for two years.

Londoner says Devon being ‘eaten up by huge caravan parks’

“The countryside and coastline is being eaten up by huge caravan parks. And there’s a chronic housing shortage, partly because homeowners are renting their properties to the lucrative holiday let market, rather than local people.”

Maisie Lillywhite www.devonlive.com

A Londoner who swapped the Big Smoke for the Devon countryside has explained the way in which holidaymakers are ‘eating up’ the county. At one point, many people would simply drive through Devon as they made their way to our neighbouring county of Cornwall, but our beautiful part of the UK has become a holiday destination within its own right, although it is still less popular that its next door neighbour.

Journalist Suzy Bennett wrote in the Telegraph that she moved to our neck of the woods 14 years ago, ditching London’s towering skyscrapers for Devon’s ‘raw, wild countryside‘. But Bennett now claims that the Devon she moved for has been lost as the county has become more popular with tourists.

She wrote: “No longer is it a place you pass through on the way to Cornwall, but a destination in its own right. Single-track roads are clogged with cars and tourist coaches.

“The countryside and coastline is being eaten up by huge caravan parks. And there’s a chronic housing shortage, partly because homeowners are renting their properties to the lucrative holiday let market, rather than local people.”

When new properties are put up for sale in Devon, Bennett notes, there is fierce competition, with the journalist claiming that a whopping total of 70 prospective buyers viewed a cottage that was put on the market. Following the pandemic, the popularity of ‘staycations’ has skyrocketed, leading to overtourism in some parts of the UK, which occurs when there are too many visitors to a particular destination.

In many honeypot British holiday destinations, housing proves to be a big problem, with local residents often having to up sticks and move away. Those who own homes in ‘staycation’ hotspots often earn much more money renting their properties out to holidaymakers than they would local people.

Visit Cornwall has decided that it will start asking holiday home owners to register their property with the county. After registering their property, homeowners would have to meet certain guidelines on health and safety to keep the property registered; it is believed that this would prevent unscrupulous owners from registering properties in the county, whilst protecting the safety of tourists visiting Cornwall.

The Express reported that Cllr Karen Kennedy, who is the Torbay Council councillor for Churston with Galmpton recently said: “We have to say this loud and clear, we are in a housing crisis. We have got to do much more than the basic minimum to alleviate the current problem.”

Kennedy claimed that some businesses are struggling to recruit workers for blue collar jobs because it is now so expensive to live in the English Riviera.

Bus watchdog investigates Stagecoach Devon

The bus industry regulator is investigating complaints about the reliability of Stagecoach Devon services and has been told public confidence in the operator is at an all-time low due to its ‘dire’ customer service and handling of complaints.

Edward Oldfield www.devonlive.com

The Traffic Commissioner has already held a hearing into concerns about cancellations and short-notice service changes. But a second session is now being planned after new concerns were raised by Devon County Council. The councillor in charge of public transport told the Commissioner passengers were angry about the company’s “failing” customer service.

Cllr Andrea Davis warned that changes to schedules in August amounted to service cuts, mostly in Exeter. She added that she feared that “even after these reductions, there will still not be sufficient driver resource in the Exeter depot which is likely to result in continued lost mileage.”

The councillor said she was writing a follow-up letter after the Exeter Highways Committee concluded in April that the service in Exeter was “not fit for purpose”. She told the Commissioner: “Lost mileage is still apparent and the communication of lost journeys and response to customer complaints and enquiries is dire.”

Cllr Davis added that “customer confidence in Stagecoach has never been lower, the public are angry – and I do not blame them! The customer service response from Stagecoach is failing and usually non-existent, and if you do get through to someone, they are located in Scotland with little or no knowledge of the local network.”

The second letter from Cllr Davis to the Commissioner followed a report on Devon bus services to the council’s Cabinet in July. She said “the situation has got worse rather than better” and alleged that the authority had seen no evidence of improvements claimed by the company.

Her letter also complained about local services being hit by drivers being switched to large events, giving the example of a concert at Powderham Castle and the Teignmouth Air Show. She told the Commissioner that on the day of the events “the level of failure on regular services increased substantially”.

Cllr Davis said that had led to the council deciding to no longer approve short-notice route applications. She concluded that change was needed to prevent planned improvements being “negated by the negative situation Stagecoach have forced us into here in Devon.”

Stagecoach responded that bus operators across the country are facing challenges including a skills shortage and the ongoing effect of the pandemic. A spokesperson apologised for the impact on customers and said the company was committed to working with the Traffic Commissioner on its recovery plans.

In a letter to the West of England Traffic Commissioner Kevin Rooney in June, Cllr Davis warned that services had got worse since the previous autumn which was the focus of his initial investigation. Her letter followed a meeting in April of the Exeter Highways Committee which concluded that the bus service in Exeter and its travel to work area was “currently not fit for purpose”. The committee blamed service cuts, cancellations without notice, lack of real-time information, lack of zero-emission buses, the “disappointing” level of government funding, and the driver shortage.

Cllr Davis acknowledged that bus operators had faced “a challenging couple of years” due to the pandemic. She said Stagecoach Devon was facing a “severe” shortage of drivers affecting reliability and the confidence of customers. The councillor said the authority’s transport team was working with the operator to ensure a “sustainable network” would be in place when extra government funding ended in October. She said that there was “a lack of up to date, accurate information being available” to passengers about service changes.

A Stagecoach South West spokesperson said: “We take our responsibilities to deliver reliable and attractive bus services to our local communities very seriously. However, bus operators across the country are facing a difficult environment, with skills shortages affecting many sectors of the economy as well as the continuing overhang from the pandemic and other challenges impacting the delivery of local bus networks to normal high standards. We are sorry for the impact these factors, several of which are outside our control, are having on our customers. We remain absolutely committed to working constructively with the Traffic Commissioner as we progress our recovery plans.”

Earlier this week Stagecoach announced changes to its timetable across a network covering Plymouth and South Devon to build a “sustainable bus network” to meet the changing needs of customers. It said there had been changes in travel patterns following the Covid-19 pandemic, and the aim was to attract more passengers in the long term.

Since March 2020 buses have been supported by central Government funding to maintain essential services due to the impact of the reduction in passenger numbers because of the pandemic. The latest round of financial support is due to run out at the end of September. The Government has announced a two-year Bus Service Improvement grant for Devon of £9million capital and £5million revenue, way short of the £34million revenue funding requested.

Under the 1985 Transport Act, bus operators state which services they wish to run on a commercial basis, including timetables, routes, and fares. The Local Transport Authority’s role is to look at where services are not provided commercially and tender routes deemed an essential social need.

NHS calls in Nepalese nurses to plug holes in staffing

Nurses are being flown in from Nepal to work in the NHS despite a global ban on employing healthcare workers from the country because of its own staff shortages.

The state we’re in – Owl

Eleanor Hayward www.thetimes.co.uk

The Department of Health yesterday [Monday] signed a deal with the Nepalese government to recruit staff for the NHS, agreeing to pay for their air tickets, visas and registration fees.

About 100 nurses are due to work at Hampshire Hospital NHS Foundation Trust under a pilot scheme running until the end of next year.

The UK has agreed to recognise Nepal’s nursing qualifications, saying these will automatically provide the right to work in the NHS. The bilateral agreement could pave the way for thousands more Nepalese nurses to join the health service.

Nepalese officials said all nurses aged 20 to 45 were eligible to apply for the scheme, adding they would not have to pay any fees and would get a salary of £27,000 to £32,000.

It is part of an international recruitment drive to address a shortage of 50,000 nurses and midwives.

Nepal is on a recruitment “red list”, drawn up by the World Health Organisation to prevent unethical recruitment from countries with shortages of health workers. Nepal has a health worker to population ratio of 0.67 doctors and nurses per 1,000. The WHO recommends 2.3 per 1,000.

A “memorandum of understanding” signed by Britain and Nepal gets around the red-list recruitment restrictions as it is a direct agreement between the two countries. The deal, the first on labour supply between Britain and Nepal, comes amid concerns over the NHS’s overreliance on foreign nurses. Almost half of the 48,436 people who joined the nursing and midwifery workforce in the past year were from overseas, mostly from India and the Philippines.

Pat Cullen, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Ministers must stop the overreliance on overseas staff and do more to invest in the recruitment and retention of the domestic workforce. This starts with pay. Nursing staff have endured a decade of real terms pay cuts.”

The Department of Health said: “Internationally trained staff have been part of the NHS since its inception in 1948 and continue to play a vital role.”

 

Inflationary trends in “cash for access”

The Conservatives have long held business days at their conference but the price tags have risen sharply since they started charging about £1,000 a head under David Cameron.

Tories offer access to new chancellor for £3,000

Rowena Mason www.theguardian.com

The Tories are selling access to the new chancellor and senior ministers ​at almost £3,000 a ticket for corporate leaders and lobbyists at their autumn conference, saying it will help firms “take your business to the next level”.

The party is advertising spaces for its “prestigious” annual business day at £2,990 a head, saying it will give attenders the chance to interact with “key decision makers in the party”.

The day involves roundtables with senior party figures, a lunch with ministers and then ends with a dinner addressed by the new chancellor, who is expected to be Kwasi Kwarteng if Liz Truss wins the Tory leadership. The dinner alone costs £400 a head to attend.

“This is your chance to hear from the Conservative party’s core team, put your questions directly to key decision makers in the party and network with other business leaders,” the party’s marketing material says.

Alongside the business day, the Tories are also selling companies the chance to exhibit at the party conference in Birmingham, which costs more than £51,000 for the biggest stands. Firms that go for that option are promised “ministerial visits from senior members of the cabinet”.

The party boasts that attending the conference gives businesses a “reach to thousands of party members, influential businesses, the senior Conservative team and more – both in-person in Birmingham, and globally online”.

The Conservatives have long held business days at their conference but the price tags have risen sharply since they started charging about £1,000 a head under David Cameron.

However, the price of the event and promise of access to ministers may reignite concerns about cash for access and ethical standards, which have arisen during the leadership of Boris Johnson.

Steve Goodrich, head of research and investigations at Transparency International UK, said: “Soliciting money for face time with senior government figures reinforces public concerns that cash buys privileged access and influence in our democracy.

“The way these top-tier stands are advertised as buying time with ministers may give rise to the perception that you must pay to be heard in politics. For individuals and businesses struggling with the rising cost of living, this could signal their voice is not worth being listened to.”

A Conservative spokesperson said: “This event is an important opportunity to engage directly with businesses and to highlight how we continue to back business and enterprise as we build back from the pandemic and tackle the economic challenges ahead. All political parties hold business events at their conferences, and we have been holding such events at our conference for decades.”

The concerns over access could be exacerbated by Truss’s plans to ditch ethical oversight for ministers by abolishing the post of independent adviser on ministerial interests.

After being pressed on the subject of a new ethics adviser multiple times at a hustings on Tuesday, Truss said: “I do think one of the problems we have got in this country in the way we approach things is we have numerous advisers and independent bodies, and rules and regulations.

“For me it’s about understanding the difference between right and wrong, and I am somebody who has always acted with integrity […] and that is what I would do as prime minister.”

Chris Bryant, the chair of the committee on standards and a Labour MP, said he feared Truss was setting herself up as “Boris Johnson mark two” on standards and ethics.

He said the credibility of ethical oversight in politics “is already hanging by a pretty thin thread as we have seen over the past few years and it feels like she wants to cut that final thread”.

“This would take us back to a time before cash for questions. If she wants to rewrite this story as a rerun of the 1990s, we know where that ends,” Bryant said.

‘Essential’ £200k storm repair work for Sidmouth

“Essential” storm repair work costing £200,000 will take place at a Devon seaside resort this autumn.

www.bbc.co.uk

A photo of Sidmouth

The work will begin in September and is expected to end at the start of November – EDDC

The work in Sidmouth will repair the seawall and a ramp which has faced years of storm damage.

It will begin in September and is expected to end at the start of November.

The Millennium Walkway and Undercliff path will close and as the work progresses the closure will move eastwards towards Sidmouth.

East Devon District Council said: “The seawall and ramp have taken many years of storm damage and requires a new concrete face and replacement ramp to ensure the structures are safe and functional into the future.

“Due to repeated storm damage upgrading to some of the railing to a solid wall will take place.

“These works are essential, and we have timed them to avoid the best part of the year for residents and holidaymakers.

“However this needs to be done before the winter storms.”

Water companies in England ‘will take 2,000 years to replace pipe network’

Analysis of Water UK data from 2021 by the Angling Trust has found that on average, water companies replace 0.05% of their pipe networks a year.

European averages show that most European countries replace their pipes at about 0.5% a year.

Helena Horton www.theguardian.com 

It would take English water companies 2,000 years to replace their pipes at current rates, leaked data reveals.

Analysis of Water UK data from 2021 by the Angling Trust has found that on average, water companies replace 0.05% of their pipe networks a year.

Southern Water and Severn Trent are the slowest performers, with each having an average replacement rate of 0.03% of their pipe network a year. Northumbrian and South West Water top the leaderboard, each replacing about 0.2% of their network each year.

European averages show that most European countries replace their pipes at about 0.5% a year, giving each pipe an expected life of approximately 200 years. Modern PVC pipes can last between 50 and 100 years depending on ground conditions and other factors.

England’s crumbling pipe network is one of the causes of the vast volumes of water leaked each year, exacerbating droughts and leading to the implementation of hosepipe bans. Water companies in England and Wales lost more than a trillion litres via leaky pipes last year, according to the sector’s latest figures. The industry and its financial regulator, Ofwat, say the water companies lost an average of 2,923.8m litres of water a day in 2021-22, equating to 1.06tn litres over the year, although Ofwat said the figures remained provisional until it has completed validation checks.

Water industry insiders have blown the whistle on the poor state of the country’s pipe network, arguing that water companies are allowing sewers to crumble, leading to floods, sewage spilling into rivers and sewage leaking into the ground causing health and safety problems.

Martin Salter, the head of policy at the Angling Trust, said: “The available data on wastewater pipe replacement rates shows that the typical replacement/renewal rate in the UK is around 0.05% of the network per annum. This implies Ofwat and the water companies are expecting sewers to last for 2,000 years – 10 times longer than the European average. Our increasing concern in pollution situations like this is that any repairs to an already crumbling network will only last a short while before the next wipeout of fish and wildlife.”

Burst sewage pipes also damage wildlife and rivers, spilling raw effluent into waterways.

Last weekend, a sewage leak suspected to have been caused by faulty pipes at the River Ray near Swindon wiped out fish populations on a three-mile length of the Thames tributary.

An initial investigation by the Environment Agency fisheries team indicates that in the bulk of the river, down to the junction with the main River Thames, there has been an almost total wipeout of fish populations and other invertebrates. More than 2,000 dead fish were counted in the sampling area, including large chub, pike and barbel.

Salter added: “There’s clearly some deep seated problems in the sewerage network around Swindon which should have been resolved years ago. We have sought full incident reports from both Thames Water and the Environment Agency and have instructed solicitors to take whatever action is necessary to secure the funds to restore the river and its wildlife. This would be in addition to any criminal prosecutions which must surely follow such a serious pollution.”

A Thames Water spokesperson said: “Protecting the environment is fundamental to what we do and we are sad to say the pollution caused by a burst pipe near Haydon End sewage pumping station has caused the death of fish in the River Ray. We are working with the Environment Agency to make sure the river returns back to normal as soon as we can.

“The broken sewer pipe has now been repaired and we will soon start to move our tankers, which were deployed so we could remove wastewater while we fixed the pipe, out of the area.

“The pollution from the burst reached as far as the confluence between the River Ray and the River Thames, and we have put aeration cannons into the water to reduce any impact of the pollution. Our environmental scientists have found no evidence that the pollution has caused any environmental damage to the River Thames. They have been carrying out further tests from the River Thames back to the source of the pollution so they can see how the river is recovering.”

Water UK, the trade body representing water companies, has been contacted for comment about pipe replacement.

Jackie Weaver to star in Channel 4’s “Make Me Prime Minister”

Viral sensation Jackie Weaver will be seeing if she has what it takes to be the next Prime Minister in a new Channel 4 series.

Jack Peat www.thelondoneconomic.com 

Weaver took the internet by storm in February last year when footage of Handforth Parish Council’s heated Zoom meeting showed her booting out two troublesome council members and being famously told “you have no authority here”.

Now she will join a 12-strong line-up in the new Channel 4 series, Make Me Prime Minister, which will see the candidates showing if they have the mettle to lead the nation and battle it out to see if they have “what it takes to operate in the cut-throat world of politics”.

After trending on Twitter and becoming one of the most popular memes of 2021, Weaver has since released a book and been a guest on television shows including Channel 4’s Big Fat Quiz Of The Year 2021.

Speaking about the upcoming series, Weaver said if she was victorious she would “make decisions that people don’t like”, and believes that “national politics should not involve the rough and tumble that it currently does”.

She would also like to “focus funding away from central government and towards local government so that changes you care about can be made”.

Former prime ministers Sir Tony Blair and David Cameron will also appear in the six-part series, which is due to air later this year on Channel 4.

“Candid and personal advice”

Sir Tony and Cameron have both offered their “candid and personal advice” on what it is like to be prime minister and have also given advice to the candidates in the series, Channel 4 said.

With views across the political spectrum, the 12 “ordinary yet opinionated Brits” will be followed on the campaign trail in the programme, as they are put through their paces in a series of “prime ministerial-style tasks designed to test their leadership skills, resilience, and integrity”.

Weekly group challenges will be set and judged by Alastair Campbell, who was Sir Tony’s former press secretary, and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, former co-chairwoman of the Conservative Party and a member of the House of Lords.

In order to remain on the campaign trail and make it through the weekly vote, candidates will need to persuade and convince former politicians, experienced journalists and the British public, that they have the charisma, vision and political acumen to lead.

Throughout the course of the series the candidates will be whittled down until one is crowned Channel 4’s Alternative Prime Minister.

Levelling up bill does not include funding needed to make levelling up happen, say MPs

Another Conservative Con, just gaseous rhetoric:

“ ..one final ingredient, the most important factor in levelling up, the yeast that lifts the whole mattress of dough…”! – Owl

www.theguardian.com 

Although the House of Commons is not sitting over the summer, MPs who chair select committees are still doing some work and some of them have been sending out letters. Clive Betts, the Labour MP who chairs the levelling up committee, says that when Greg Clark replaced Michael Gove as levelling up secretary in July, he asked Betts to tell him over the summer what the committee thought of the levelling up and regeneration bill.

Not much seems to be the answer. Today Betts has released the letter he has sent to Clark on behalf of his committee giving an assessment of the bill and here is the key paragraph.

It is the committee’s view that the main tool to achieve levelling up will be through appropriate funding to those areas that need it most. This funding will help in making progress on the levelling up missions related to public transport and local connectivity; transforming digital connectivity; improving education outcomes; increasing the number of adults who complete high quality skills training; and increasing healthy life expectancy. None of the provisions in the bill will directly contribute to making progress towards achieving these missions – other than setting them. There is also no funding for levelling up associated with the bill.

Like all select committees, this one has a narrow Conservative majority.

And in a statement to journalists Betts said:

In its current form, the bill does little to reassure that levelling up will prove to be more than just a slogan and that we will have meaningful change in local communities across the country. In key areas, it is unclear how the government intends to drive change and they are yet to commit to the spending that is necessary to level up the country.

Our inquiry has focused on the planning provisions in the bill, which can be described as loosely-connected proposals to tinker with the current system, hopefully achieving some improvement. It has been difficult to conduct scrutiny due to a lot of the detail of the provisions having not yet been published.

“Stalling in the face of a national emergency” – Richard Foord MP

Tiverton & Honiton MP Richard Foord has called on the Government to spare people from soaring energy bills by cancelling October’s price cap increase, accusing the Conservatives of “stalling in the face of a national emergency”. The plan would save a typical household in East Devon an extra £1,869.88 a year, and a typical household in Mid Devon an extra £1,931.85.

Lewis Clarke www.devonlive.com

The 70 per cent increase in the energy price cap expected to be announced by Ofgem later this month would be cancelled, with the Government instead paying the shortfall to energy suppliers so that they can afford to supply customers at the current rates.

He says this would mean a total estimated saving £173 million off their electricity and gas bills across the two local authorities. £115 million in East Devon and £57 million in Mid Devon respectively. The Liberal Democrats say the estimated £36 billion cost should be met by expanding the windfall tax on oil and gas company profits, and using the Government’s higher-than-expected VAT revenues as a result of soaring inflation.

The party is also calling for more targeted support for vulnerable and low-income households. This would include doubling the Warm Homes Discount to £300 and extending it to all those on Universal Credit and Pension Credit, while investing in insulating fuel poor homes to bring prices down in the long term.

Richard Foord, Liberal Democrat MP for Tiverton and Honiton, said: “People across our part of Devon are already struggling to make ends meet. Many are deeply concerned about how they will cope with the predicted rise in energy bills – which are set to soar by almost 70 per cent.

“This Conservative Government is stalling in the face of a national emergency. Yet again they are neglecting their duty to the country and not doing enough to put money back into people’s pockets, so they can pay their bills. Countless families and pensioners across East and Mid Devon are already struggling. They need help now and cannot afford to wait weeks for a new Conservative leader to act. This is an emergency, and the Government must step in now to help families and pensioners across Devon by cancelling the planned rise in energy bills this October.”

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

How else can you afford tax cuts? – Owl

The foreign secretary told a leadership hustings hosted by Times Radio in the West Midlands that too much of the government’s £13 billion package to address Covid backlogs and overhaul social care was going into the NHS. “I would spend that money in social care,” she said. “Quite a lot has gone to the NHS. I would give it to local authorities. We have people in beds in the NHS who would be better off in social care. So put that money into social care.”

Extract from: www.thetimes.co.uk