Beautiful Cornish beach turned brown after raw sewage pumped into sea

“South West Water admitted they had allowed sewage to be pumped into the sea, saying it was a ‘controlled release’ and they had to do this because of heavy rainfall, to stop sewage backing up into people’s homes.”

Jen Mills 

The picturesque view of a popular Cornish cove turned to something much more disgusting this weekend when raw sewage was released into the ocean.

Trevaunance Cove in St Agnes usually boasts turquoise – or at least greeny blue – seas, but on Sunday the vista became almost entirely brown.

Some blue could still be seen towards the edge of the sewage slick, however, demonstrating that the colour change was not down to the sky being overcast but due to contamination of the water.

A local surfer shared footage of the grim sight with surfing magazine Carve, who posted footage online saying it was ‘Unbelievable. A dad just got out this arvo and said to his three-year-old “Best wash the sewage off…”

‘It is still stinking. No way am I surfing in that.’

Another video posted online showed brown liquid pouring out of a pipe at St Agnes, captioned ‘sh*t pouring into the sea’.

(Watch on sky news)

South West Water admitted they had allowed sewage to be pumped into the sea, saying it was a ‘controlled release’ and they had to do this because of heavy rainfall, to stop sewage backing up into people’s homes.

But they denied the brown colour was entirely due to sewage, saying they believe it was also due to ‘mud in the water dislodged by the heavy rain flowing into the area from a nearby stream and runoff from agricultural land’.

Many responded to say how saddened they were by the images, tagging in South West Water to demand they stop the practice.

One woman wrote: ‘This breaks my heart. I’ve played with my kids on this beach.’

Another said: ‘@SouthWestWater how DARE you. Can you imagine what this does to our marine life, let alone humans who choose to swim at this time of year. Shame on you. What have you got to say for yourselves?’

It comes amid growing concern about the amount of sewage being dumped in beaches in the UK. At the same time as wild swimming has been growing in popularity, the amount of sewage released into public waterways has been rising.

Water companies are banned from dumping raw, untreated sewage into our seas and rivers, but they get around it with an exception.

After heavy rainfall, they are legally allowed to release wastewater in order to stop the sewer system becoming overwhelmed.

These ‘storm overflows’ are only supposed to happen in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

But Surfers Against Sewage reports that they are occuring at an ‘alarming rate’. 

Writing in in August, former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas blamed a lack of investment in the water network, lax regulation and cuts to funding for the Environment Agency, claiming that privatised water companies had ‘utterly failed’.

She said data suggests the amount of sewage pumped into UK waterways has increased by 2,553% in the past five years. 

Surfers Against Sewage, an environmental group who monitor the waste dumping, warned that there were eight locations where sewage had been released at beaches in Cornwall this week alone: Gwithian Towans, Godrevy Towans, Trevaunance Cove, Crantock, Fistral North and Fistral South in Newquay, Mawgan Porth, and Widemouth Bay near Bude.

Their warning for Trevaunance Cove at St Agnes reads: ‘Pollution Alert: Storm sewage has been discharged from a sewer overflow in this location within the past 48 hours.

‘Trevaunance Cove is a small sand and rock beach set in a picturesque cove surrounded by high cliffs, also home to SAS HQ! A reasonable amount of sand is exposed at low tide and it is possible to walk over the rocks to the neighbouring Trevellas, while at high tide the whole beach is covered.

‘Two sewer overflows discharge into the Trevaunance Stream, 70m and 750m upstream from the beach. Other discharges from the surrounding urban area may also affect bathing water quality especially after heavy rainfall.’

A South West Water spokesperson told Cornwall Live: ‘This year the South West has seen the dramatic changes in weather patterns presented by climate change, as demonstrated in August when the region was declared in drought. Through these changes we are now experiencing more extreme weather patterns than ever before and this year the South West saw one of the driest and hottest years on record.

‘As well as prolonged periods of extremely hot weather, we have seen heavy localised rainfall which hasn’t been able to permeate into the dry ground, meaning significant volumes run into our network, which can cause our storm overflows to trigger.

‘Following heavy, localised rainfall this morning (October 30), a permitted storm overflow triggered at Trevaunance Cove in St Agnes, Cornwall. Storm overflows are designed to release excess storm water into rivers and seas when a prolonged rainfall occurs to prevent the risk of sewage backing up and flooding homes and public spaces by allowing a controlled release.

‘We continue to increase investment in the region’s infrastructure as part of our continued commitment to protecting and enhancing the natural environment.’

But a spokesperson later told ‘While the storm overflow at St Agnes triggered briefly on Sunday following heavy rain, this was a short duration spill and is unlikely to have caused the level of discolouration shown in the video.

‘On this occasion, we believe there were other factors which contributed to the discolouration, such as mud in the water dislodged by the heavy rain flowing into the area from a nearby stream and runoff from agricultural land.

‘We continue to increase investment in the region’s infrastructure as part of our ongoing commitment to protecting and enhancing the natural environment.’

Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 17 October

NHS yet to see ‘a single penny’ of promised £500m emergency fund

Hospitals and care homes have not received a single penny of a £500m emergency fund promised by the government to prevent the NHS becoming overwhelmed this winter, the Guardian has learned.

Andrew Gregory 

Ministers announced they were injecting the cash into the health and social care system last month, to help get thousands of medically fit patients out of hospital into either their own home or a care home as soon as possible in an effort to better prepare the NHS for the coming months.

“At the moment, one of the key challenges is discharging patients from hospital into more appropriate care settings to free up beds and help improve ambulance response times,” Thérèse Coffey, the then health and social care secretary, said on 22 September. “To tackle that, I can announce today that we are launching a £500m adult social care discharge fund for this winter.”

However, the Guardian has been told that none of the funding has materialised. Senior health and social care sources described the government’s failure to release the promised cash as “inexplicable” and “outrageous”.

More than 13,000 of the 100,000 NHS hospital beds in England currently contain “delayed discharge” patients, which has led to A&E units becoming heavily congested and long delays in ambulance handovers. As a direct result, thousands of 999 patients are suffering potential “severe harm” every month because ambulances are stuck outside hospitals.

The revelation comes after Coffey, demoted to environment secretary this week by the new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, took to Twitter on Tuesday to trumpet her 50 days in charge of the NHS and social care. “Huge thanks to my great ministerial team [at the Department of Health and Social Care],” she wrote. “We achieved a lot together in seven weeks.”

The £500m adult social care discharge fund was intended to relieve pressure on hospitals by ensuring that patients whom doctors have judged well enough to leave can be safely discharged either to their home or into a care home.

Ministers said the £500m was going to help hospitals, care home operators and providers of domiciliary care services, which mainly assist frail elderly people who live at home with tasks such as eating, dressing and getting out of bed.

“The local NHS will be working with councils with targeted plans on specific care packages to support people being either in their own home or in the wider community,” Coffey said when announcing the cash injection last month. “That £500m acts as the down payment in the rebalancing of funding across health and social care as we develop our longer-term plans.”

The NHS Confederation, which represents the health and care system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, called on the new health and social care secretary, Steve Barclay, to make it an “immediate priority” to release the cash.

“Leaders across the NHS and local authorities are yet to see a single penny of this investment or any official detail on how it will be allocated,” said Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation.

“Currently, only two-fifths of patients in hospital are able to leave when they are ready to do so, including due to problems accessing social care, yet health leaders still do not know how and when the £500m will be released to the system. So close to winter, this is unbelievable.

“We have a new prime minister who health leaders hope will bring stability to the government and unblock the policy paralysis that has consumed Whitehall. Vital public services and the communities they serve are currently paying the price of this political chaos.

“Without the immediate release of the adult social care discharge fund, the prospect of a winter crisis for the NHS is extremely high and so the government really does need to act now.”

Labour MP Wes Streeting, the shadow health and social care secretary, said: “The NHS is facing the biggest crisis in its history and the chaos in the Conservative party is preventing them from fixing it.

“Even the sticking plasters promised to the NHS and care homes to get them through the winter haven’t been delivered.”

The Guardian has approached the Department of Health and Social Care for comment.

Will Boris Johnson upstage Sunak by attending Cop27?

“If we’re really saying that in the sixth richest country in the world that our Prime Minister can’t be bothered to get there because he’s busy, what about all of those prime ministers in countries that are absolutely on the front edge of the climate emergency right now?” – Caroline Lucas MP

Boris Johnson ‘planning to attend Cop27’ as criticism of Rishi Sunak climate summit snub grows.

Maryam Zakir-Hussain 

Boris Johnson is reportedly planning to attend Cop27, as criticism of Rishi Sunak’s snub of the key climate event grows.

Downing Street confirmed this week the new Prime Minister will not be in Egypt for the summit, as he was prioritising the autumn budget instead.

That decision has been widely denounced, with claims it shows a ‘lack of leadership’ on such a significant global issue.

And now The Observer claims that Mr Johnson is planning on going instead, though in what capacity is not yet clear.

It comes just days after Mr Johnson ruled out joining the race to replace Liz Truss, abandoning a second attempt at running the country three months after he was ousted by his own MPs.

Attendance at the climate conference has been contentious, with former PM Liz Truss advising King Charles against going despite his well-known interest in environmental campaigns. Though she has since resigned, her successor Mr Sunak has upheld this advice to the new monarch.

Instead, the King will host a reception at Buckingham Palace for business leaders, NGOs and experts ahead of Cop27, it has been confirmed.

The reception is seen as a compromise between the Palace and Downing Street, allowing the King to still show his solidarity with the battle against climate crisis.

Mr Sunak, meanwhile, faces continuing criticism for his decision to miss the key event.

Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for climate change, said it was an “embarrassing reflection” of the government’s failure to deliver on its Cop26 commitments. “This is a massive failure of climate leadership,” he added.

And speaking on Sunday, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said the decision was “disgraceful”.

Asked about reports Mr Johnson could attend the summit, she told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: “I think this is probably about the first decision that Boris Johnson has made that I might support.

“If it embarrasses Rishi Sunak to reverse his disgraceful decision and actually get there himself, all and good.

“I’m not suggesting necessarily that Boris Johnson is doing it for the good of the planet, I suspect a great deal of self-promotion is going in there as well, but let’s take it, let’s have him go there.

“It is absolutely so wrong that Rishi Sunak is not going because the UK is still the holder of the Cop presidency, symbols matter.

“If we’re really saying that in the sixth richest country in the world that our Prime Minister can’t be bothered to get there because he’s busy, what about all of those prime ministers in countries that are absolutely on the front edge of the climate emergency right now?”

When asked about reports of Mr Johnson’s alleged attendance at the summit, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “The Government is absolutely committed to supporting COP27 and leading international action to tackle climate change and protect nature.

“The UK will be fully represented by senior ministers, including the Foreign, Business and Environment Secretaries as well as COP President Alok Sharma.

“They will be working to ensure that countries continue to make progress on the ground-breaking commitments made at COP26 in Glasgow.”

BBC local radio stations face big cuts to content made for their area

BBC local radio stations could be left with just a handful of programmes specific to their area under proposals set to be announced this week.

Bad news – Owl

Jim Waterson 

A fresh round of BBC cuts is due to be announced on Monday, with sources telling the Guardian it will herald the end of most local radio stations as truly distinctive standalone outlets.

Plans under consideration include cutting the number of weekday shows on each BBC local radio station to two, leaving just a breakfast show and a lunchtime programme. Output during the afternoons and evenings would consist of shows broadcast on multiple local stations across large swathes of the UK or nationally.

Weekend output, with the exception of sport coverage, would also be largely run on a regional basis – spelling the end for many of the unique shows now airing on local stations.

Although the BBC has trumpeted the success of its 39 English local radio stations as being at the heart of their communities – especially during the pandemic, and in a recent round of interviews with Liz Truss – they are facing two key challenges.

One is the enormous financial impact of the real-terms freeze to the licence fee and the challenge of rampant cost inflation. The other is the shift in audiences, with BBC bosses wanting to redeploy staff from radio stations with ageing, declining audiences to make content for younger, growing audiences online.

The plans would be confined to stations in England, as the devolved nations have their own teams and management structure.

Any such changes are likely to result in dozens of job losses, rounds of voluntary redundancies and presenters having to reapply for their jobs. Some well-known local hosts are likely to lose their jobs in the process or have to take up joint producer-presenter roles.

BBC bosses will set out their plans in detail this week, with staff invited to calls from Monday onwards to hear “proposals to reshape BBC England into a full multimedia service”.

A BBC spokesperson told the Guardian: “We announced back in May that we would be introducing greater programme sharing between our 39 BBC local radio stations in England. This will enable us to increase investment in local digitised services.

“We will be sharing more information on these plans very shortly – and our own staff will of course hear about any proposed changes first. Our local services are trusted by millions of people and our plans are designed to ensure we keep pace with audiences in a fast-changing world.”

The latest cuts follow previously announced plans to end regional TV news bulletins for Oxford and Cambridge.

Last month, the BBC’s director general, Tim Davie, warned MPs that the corporation was being forced to cut costs because of the decision to freeze the licence fee. Speaking to the digital, culture, media and sport committee he said: “We are under very significant pressure, due to the decision to keep the licence fee flat, which we didn’t want.”

But, he added: “We need to continue to invest and grow our local offer. I think it is an absolute key strength of the BBC.”

The BBC told the government it will face a £285m gap in its income by 2027 because of the licence fee freeze. Last month the BBC announced deep cuts to its World Service output involving the loss of about 382 jobs in an attempt to save £28.5m.

As part of the plans the corporation will stop producing radio output in 10 languages, including Chinese, Hindi and Arabic. BBC Persian will also end its audio broadcasts aimed at Iran.

There will also be a change in focus for the World Service’s English-language radio output, with more time dedicated to live news and sport programming at the expense of standalone programmes.

The latest listening figures, released last week, showed BBC radio now accounts for 46.7% of all radio listening in the UK, compared with commercial radio on 50.9%.

While the BBC continues to maintain dozens of distinct local stations at substantial cost, the big commercial groups have gone for a different strategy.

They have combined dozens of once-distinct local radio stations under national brands such as Heart and Capital, providing the bare minimum of local output to meet requirements set out by media regulator Ofcom. Despite complaints about the loss of local identities, the new outlets perform well with audiences and tend to boost listening figures.

The BBC’s existing licence fee agreement runs out at the end of 2027 and discussions are under way about what could replace it.

Michael Gove U-turns to reimpose “Stalinist” housing targets

Housing Secretary Michael Gove has said the government is still committed to a manifesto pledge of building 300,000 homes every year by the mid-2020s.

BBC News

Former PM Liz Truss had thrown doubt on the aim, saying she wanted to scrap “Stalinist” housing targets.

But Mr Gove – who returned to cabinet after Ms Truss’s resignation – told the BBC he wanted to build more homes, both for ownership and to rent.

He added that new developments should have the consent of local communities.

The minister also warned meeting the target would be “difficult” due to the economic circumstances.

“We need to be straight with people: the cost of materials has increased because of the problems with global supply chains and also a very tight labour market means that the capacity to build those homes at the rate we want is constrained,” he said.

Asked about Ms Truss’s past comments on housing targets, Mr Gove said: “The top-down housing targets that… Liz was referring to are part of a broader and different calculation from the 300,000 in the manifesto.

“My view is that what we do need is a fair way of allocating housing need that takes account of changes in population.”

He said new developments should be “more beautiful”, have the consent of the local community, be accompanied by the right infrastructure and protect the environment.

During the interview on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Mr Gove also avoided saying whether the government would raise benefits in line with inflation.

He said there would be “tough decisions” but that the prime minister’s “instinct” was to help the vulnerable.

Speaking to the same programme, former Conservative Chancellor Philip Hammond – who originally set the target – said he would be “very surprised” if the government did not increase benefits in line with inflation.

Chart showing net additional dwellings since 2000

The UK is experiencing what many have described as a housing crisis, with millions living in sub-standard conditions and long waiting lists for council houses.

However, building more homes has proved a headache for Conservative prime ministers.

In 2017, then-chancellor Mr Hammond set the target of building 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s and the party recommitted to the aim in its 2019 manifesto.

However, Boris Johnson’s efforts as prime minister to increase building by forcing local councils to accept new housing developments in certain areas had to be paused after a backlash from his own MPs, one of whom warned it would see the south of England “concreted over”.

Earlier this year, former housing secretary Robert Jenrick said the government would “miss their 300,000-homes-a-year manifesto pledge by a country mile”.

In the Conservative leadership campaign over the summer, Ms Truss hinted she would scrap the target, telling The Telegraph “I want to abolish the top-down Whitehall-inspired Stalinist housing targets – I think that’s the wrong way to generate economic growth.”

During the contest, Mr Sunak’s team also said he did not believe in arbitrary or top-down numbers for housing.

In May, Mr Gove himself appeared to cast doubt on the target.

He said the government would do all it could to meet the figure, but added that it would be “no kind of success simply to hit a target if the homes built are shoddy, in the wrong place, don’t have the infrastructure and are not contributing to beautiful communities”.

“Arithmetic is important, but so is beauty, so is belonging, so is democracy,” he had said.

However, when asked by Laura Kuenssberg if the government was still committed to the 300,000 figure, Mr Gove said: “Yes.”

He also confirmed that he would be continuing with previously announced legislation to tackle rogue landlords, saying: “These chancers are leaving people in dire circumstances.”

Last-ditch attempt in Clyst St Mary’s Winslade Park battle

From a Correspondent:


Calling all East Devon oracles and wise feathered friends for much-needed advice in answering, seemingly, irresolvable questions!

Residents have had to overcome continual, stumbling blocks, submissions of erroneous information, widespread lack of empathy and immeasurable anxiety, leaving innumerable questions still unanswered – but, now, (quite rightly) the Planning Committee on 25th October 2022, recommended a site meeting to allow attendees to make a final decision on these controversial 40 four-storey towering blocks in this East Devon village (Planning Application 21/2217/MRES). However, planning protocol only allows for the elected planning attendees at the site meeting having a decision-making vote on this application – so those unable to attend the site meeting are unable to vote on the ultimate resolution!

After umpteen local objections (including from the Parish Council and District Councillor),with a recommendation of refusal from a revered planning barrister, with submissions of verifiable, explanatory documentation to create balance and defend against the Developer’s slanted opinions – is it not disrespectful that the site meeting is being planned whilst the elected Clyst Valley Ward representative is absent on a brief holiday – since he is the sole Councillor who knows the problems, solutions and Clyst St Mary village inside out? However, crucially he has objected to the flats being too tall and too near to the protected woodland, which goes against the planning officer’s recommendation of approval?

Is it reasonable to expect (even with staff shortages!) that correct, balanced information is given to a decision-making Committee? The Officer’s Report published the wrong Location Plan (instead erroneously displaying the approved Zone A site for 38 homes on a green field, that was recently granted permission for viability purposes to finance the entire Winslade Park masterplan); there were out-dated photographs, apartment heights measured without proposed increased ground levels, omissions in distances from the flats, elevated road and parking spaces to the nearest receptors’ boundaries, (preferring to exclusively provide discriminatory Developers’ data, which had been selected to compliment an approval recommendation to Committee)?

Councillors’ legitimate concerns were ‘batted away’ by the Lead Planner at the meeting, who seemed to ‘not be aware’ of proven, detrimental issues that might risk and affect the officer’s approval recommendation– we are all aware that EDDC needs to ‘bolster’ the lapsed 5-year housing quotas – but are decisions being guided at any cost to existing residents?

Do members of the public have to tolerate being in a forum of political battles, sarcasm and inappropriate comments between elected Planning Committee Members from opposing political spectrums, during their discussions on such major contentious applications, when important decisions are so critical to so many East Devon residents’ lives?

Is the planning authority concerned about staff shortages and the costs of an Appeal if they refuse this application? An Inspector’s decision may not be as ‘cut and dried’ as the Committee may be led to believe?

Should a complaint be registered for allowing a highly irregular planning committee procedure, that permitted supplementary, but unverified, new images from the Developers to be viewed by Committee, (after the Developer had already exhausted his allocated time, which gave him advantage for strengthening bias by assessing the mood of the meeting, when public objectors were only allowed an initial 3-minutes maximum restrictive ‘influential window’?

Such breaking with planning protocol, resulted in the Lead Planning Officer being subjected to the onerous task of warning Councillors that such images should not be given any credence or decision-making weight?

Will such justifiable complaints result in worsening an already bad situation for residents by ‘fuelling the fire’ of undisciplined party differences, resulting in displeasing some impartial elected attendees who might agree with the residents call for a refusal?

EDDC appears to be a local authority that does not allow members of the public to contribute at a Planning Committee site visit (even if their gardens are required for access for such visits)? On the other hand, will the Developers be present, giving them (yet another) opportunity to further promote their development alongside the planning officer’s recommendation – but without being challenged – so virtually this would be an inequitable tribunal – a one-sided argument?

Without any severe frosts, our treasured, deciduous woodland has retained its foliage! Consequently, to date, Committee attendees will be unable to view the sparse winter screening evident for 6 months of the year – but, fortunately, they have received residents’ winter photos that were lacking in the Officer Report images?

We take little comfort from an elected member’s patronising suggestions at 25th October planning meeting, that existing residents can all plant fruit trees in our gardens to screen the Developers’ 40 x four-storey development from our homes! So far, we have failed to yield any positive results when searching for tree suppliers who can provide approximately 15-metre fruit tree specimens that are capable of screening these towering flats within the limits of most of our lifetimes – and we may also require the use of an extendable cherry-picker for harvesting any fruit from such insurmountable heights!

If site attendees recommend an approval, many Clyst Valley Road homes will require the complete re-arrangement of their entire gardens, their al fresco dining, their outdoor leisure activities and, quite honestly, their entire lives – because we spend as much time outside in the gardens as indoors and (like others) our outdoor spaces are intrinsically important to us.

All we ask for is a fair, impartial planning system that is balanced and works for everyone – developers and residents alike – but we don’t see this happening with this application- and so we must continue to make our voices heard – whether we will succeed in improving this inappropriate design or fail in our final last-ditch attempt – remains to be seen!

 “Leaky Sue”: ‘delete and ignore’ email (shred before reading, safer – Owl)

Not to be confused with “Chatty Liz” and her hacked mobile.

Suella Braverman is ‘first-rate’, says Michael Gove as he is confronted with her ‘delete and ignore’ email.

Adam Forrest 

Rishi Sunak was right to reappoint “first-rate” Suella Braverman as home secretary, said Michael Gove, confronted with an email she sent asking someone to delete a message that broke security rules.

The levelling-up secretary defended the prime minister’s controversial decision to bring Ms Braverman into cabinet only six days after she was sacked for a security breach.

Asked if the PM was right to hand her the role, Mr Gove told Sky News: “Yes. Suella is a first-rate, front-rank politician. She has acknowledged the mistake that has been made.”

The senior Tory figure added: “She is a valued member of the cabinet, and someone whom I admire a lot,” later telling the BBC that the prime minister thought “she deserves a second chance”.

Ms Braverman has claimed that she told top government officials about her mistake after sharing a sensitive government document via her personal email.

Appearing on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Mr Gove was confronted with a leaked email showing that Ms Braverman had asked a recipient to “delete the message and ignore” at around 10am, hours before officials were eventually told at midday.

Mr Gove said the request to ignore and delete the email was “standard practice” and would be “quite proper” – going on to claim that Ms Braverman was “absolutely” a politician of integrity.

He added: “I am satisfied, more than satisfied, that in resigning, accepting responsibility, apologising, and then in being assured by the cabinet secretary and the prime minister that Suella coming back into office was the right thing, that Suella is now in a position to do the work that she is dedicated to doing.”

Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said the “delete and ignore” email “adds to the serious list of questions we have about this reckless reappointment of Suella Braverman”.

She told Laura Kuenssberg: “There was obviously the initial breach of the ministerial code, the security lapses involved, but now questions about whether she gave an accurate description of what happened.”

Mr Gove also denied that Ms Braverman had rejected legal advice from top officials on overcrowding at an asylum processing centre in Manston in Kent and the need to transfer people to hotels.

The home secretary was advised weeks ago that migrants were being held for unlawfully long periods at the centre because of the failure to transfer them, multiple sources told The Sunday Times.

Charities told The Independent that asylum seekers were held at the facility for several weeks when it was intended to hold people only for 24 hours, with outbreaks of diphtheria and scabies reported amid the “inhumane” conditions.

“The situation at Manston is not what it should be,” Mr Gove told Sophy Ridge on Sunday. “But it’s important to stress that the home secretary did not ignore or dismiss legal advice. The home secretary was balancing a number of competing imperatives.”

Asked if conditions were “humane”, the minister said: “Yes… We want people to be in appropriate accommodation as quickly as possible. The situation is not perfect, everyone acknowledges that. We have more than 2,000 people there at the moment.”

The Liberal Democrats have called on the government to publish the legal advice reportedly ignored by Ms Braverman that the government has been illegally detaining thousands of asylum seekers.

Andy Baxter from Prison Officers’ Association, who represents staff at Manston processing centre, said Ms Braverman should resign over the issue, telling LBC Radio conditions at the overcrowded facility were “Dickensian”.

Former Home Office adviser Claire Pearsall told LBC she did not think Ms Braverman could survive the week, given the gravity of the Manston-related accusations. “I don’t see how she can stay in position if legal advice is being ignored on something as serious as this.”

Former Tory chancellor George Osborne said No 10 had already calculated and accepted that Ms Braverman would “blow up” as she continues faces flak over her security breach and handling of aslyum seekers.

He told Channel 4’s The Andrew Neil Show: “I think they probably made a calculation in Downing Street that she’s going to blow up – and that’s fine by them because, you know, she’s no fan of theirs and they’re no fan of hers.”

Meanwhile, Mr Gove admitted that the Conservatives owed the public an apology for installing Ms Truss as leader, calling her tax cuts “a holiday from reality”.

The levelling-up secretary said Mr Sunak had been “vindicated’ on the big economic matters after Ms Truss took a “wrong turn” on unfunded tax cuts.

Finance, property and mining: the money behind Sunak’s £460,000 leadership bid

Rishi Sunak’s Conservative party leadership bid was bankrolled to the tune of almost £500,000 by City figures including a multibillionaire hedge fund manager, a spread betting tycoon, and intriguingly, a close friend and policy adviser who masterminded his campaign.

Rupert Neate

Sunak, 42, who together with this heiress wife has a £730m fortune, received a total of £458,570 in donations as well as gifted office space and the use of a private jet for his failed – but then eventually successful – bid to lead the Conservative party and become prime minister.

He received more money than any of the other contenders in the race, ahead of Liz Truss who collected £424,000, and in excess of the £300,000 spending limit put in place by the Conservative party.

Chris Rea, industrialist

Sunak’s single biggest backer was Chris Rea, a little-known Northern Irish businessman. Rea, who runs the manufacturing company Aesseal, donated £100,000 according to the register of members’ interests. He gave £50,000 on 28 July, followed by another £50,000 on 9 August.

Rea, who has been confused by some with the Road to Hell rocker, has been a long-time donor to the Conservatives including £25,000 in 2008 and £100,000 during the 2010 election campaign.

Rea told the Guardian that he chose to donate to Sunak because he was “horrified at the prospect of Liz Truss actually implementing her promises as I am numerate and it was clear to me that it would be bad for the UK”.

He said Sunak did not solicit the donation, but he did call him and invite him to a “thank you dinner in London” after Sunak lost initially to Truss.

Rea insisted there had not been and “never will be any conversations about any policies that will benefit me personally or Aesseal”.

“Frankly neither I nor the business need any help, and I and we are more concerned about what we can give to society than what society can do for us,” he added.

Michael Farmer, ‘Mr Copper’ hedge fund manager

Michael Farmer, a former Tory party treasurer, prominent Brexiter, hedge fund boss and metals trading multimillionaire known as “Mr Copper”, donated £38,470 including, as Sunak described it, “use of a plane during my campaign for leadership of the Conservative party”, a gift in kind valued at £23,470.

Farmer, 77, who made most of his estimated £150m via his Red Kite group of hedge funds, is one of the largest donors to the Conservatives, giving at least £6m over past last 10 years. He was Tory party’s co-treasurer from 2011-2015 and made a life peer in 2014.

Farmer, one of the world’s most influential commodity hedge fund traders, donated £300,000 to the Vote Leave campaign in 2017 and said Brexit would be a “bright new beginning” for Britain. He also donated £100,000 in 2011 to the No to AV campaign, which opposed replacing first-past-the-post voting with a transferable vote system.

He was an early public backer of Sunak, saying in July that the now prime minister was “a serious man” and said his plan to apply fiscal “discipline now and allowing some generosity later is the right way to handle the current economic difficulties”.

Farmer, who campaigns for “a culture that values family life” and became a Christian “literally overnight when he was 35”, shot to public attention in 2013 when it was revealed he had paid for his son George to join Oxford University’s notorious Bullingdon club, the male-only dining club that David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson attended.

George Farmer is now chief executive of Parler, the rightwing social media app that Kayne West – who changed his name to Ye last year – has said he is buying after he was blocked by Twitter for making antisemitic posts.

George is married to Candace Owens, the outspoken US rightwing political pundit. They tied the knot at the Trump Winery in Virginia in 2019 with a string of famous US and UK rightwing guests including the former UK Independence party leader Nigel Farage. George stood unsuccessfully for Ukip in the 1999 European parliament elections.

Nick Leslau, property developer

The second-largest donation came from Yoginvest Ltd, a company controlled by the multimillionaire property investor Nick Leslau, which donated £50,000. Leslau, who is estimated by the Sunday Times rich list to have a fortune of about £400m, owns big stakes in Alton Towers, Warwick Castle and Thorpe Park.

Leslau, who donated £20,000 to the Conservatives through Yoginvest in 2019, said in 2020 he would not give any more money to the Tories after the government banned commercial landlords from evicting shop and restaurant tenants struggling during lockdowns. “I think the flippancy with which the property industry has been treated has been narrow-minded,” he told the Times.

Mick Davis, mining tycoon

Sir Mick Davis, also a former Tory party treasurer and ex-boss of the mining company Xstrata, gave Sunak £25,000, and said last week any MP backing Johnson’s bid to return to No 10 was “delusional”. Davis has donated almost £6m to the Conservatives over the years. In 2011 he was revealed to be one of the people funding the jetset lifestyle of Adam Werritty, a friend of the former minister Liam Fox whowho posed as an official adviser in a scandal that let to Fox’s resignation.

Will Harris, PR boss

Office space in a Grade II-listed building near Westminster, worth £3,195, for advisers running his campaign was provided by Bridge Consulting Ltd, the home of PR firm Bridge F61. The firm, which has boasted on its website “We can make you rich, we can make you famous”, was co-founded by the the Tory marketing guru Will Harris, part of the team that devised the slogan “The future’s bright, the future’s Orange” for the mobile phone firm.

Harris, who says he campaigned for Michael Howard in 2003, the year he became leader of the Tory party, boasts on his website that working for political clients is akin to a “frantic T20 Blast”. “Despite a shared love of Jaffa Cakes and cans of Coke Zero, business campaigners rarely start their day at 5.45am with the morning media briefing, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.”

Eleanor Shawcross, political adviser

Another £20,000 came in from Eleanor Shawcross, a policy adviser who helped run the campaign from the headquarters in Dean Trench Street. She is expected to be rewarded with the job of head of the No 10 policy unit or possibly chief of staff.

She was among the staff who lined up to welcome the new prime minister as he walked through the door of Downing Street on his first day in the role.

Her donation was made in the name Eleanor Wolfson. She is married to Simon Wolfson, the chief executive of the clothing chain Next, who has given hundreds of thousands to the Tories, and was granted a peerage in 2010.

She is the daughter of William Shawcross, who has written several books on the royal family and former chair of the Charity Commission, and is a non-executive director at the Department for Work and Pensions and was deputy chief of staff to George Osborne when he was chancellor.

She met Lord Wolfson, who is 14 years her senior, while working for Osborne. The couple married in 2012 and have two children, one of whom was born prematurely and spent weeks in neonatal intensive care – she is on the board of the Winncott Foundation, which works to improve neonatal care.

Shawcross previously worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Blavatnik school of government at the University of Oxford.

Michael Spencer, financial entrepreneur

Michael Spencer, the billionaire founder of the broker Icap, donated £25,000. However, the long-term Conservative backer who has given more than £5m to the party and as treasurer from 2006-2010, initially backed Penny Mordaunt with a £25,000 donation. The day after she was eliminated he donated to Sunak, and then later when Truss appeared to be winning he donated the same amount to her campaign.

In her first days in office he praised her as “one of the most pro-business” leaders the country has ever had.

Liz Truss’s phone ‘hacked by Putin spies who obtained top secret information’

Liz Truss’s mobile phone was hacked by agents presumed to be working for Russia’s Vladimir Putin during the Tory leadership race, according to reports.

Andy Gregory

Opposition parties have demanded an urgent investigation into whether the then foreign secretary’s phone was breached by Russian spies this summer and, if so, why the matter was kept from the public.

In his position at the time as outgoing prime minister, Boris Johnson is alleged to have been informed of the hack immediately and agreed with his cabinet secretary Simon Case on a “total news blackout”.

The hackers are claimed to have gained access to sensitive information, including discussions with foreign officials about the war in Ukraine and details about arms shipments.

Messages between Ms Truss and her future chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, in which the pair were critical of Mr Johnson, were among a year’s worth of message which were compromised, leading to a potential risk of blackmail, it is claimed.

The phone has now been placed in a locked safe at a secure government location, one individual told the Mail on Sunday, which cited unnamed sources with knowledge of the incident in its report.

“This caused absolute pandemonium,” another told the newspaper, accusing Mr Johnson and Mr Case of suppressing the matter.

“It is not a great look for the intelligence services if the foreign secretary’s phone can be so easily plundered for embarrassing personal messages by agents presumed to be working for Putin’s Russia.”

Ms Truss reportedly changed her mobile number of 10 years shortly before entering Downing Street.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “There are immensely important national security issues raised by an attack like this by a hostile state which will have been taken extremely seriously by our intelligence and security agencies.

“There are also serious security questions around why and how this information has been leaked or released right now which must also be urgently investigated.

“It is essential that all of these security issues are investigated and addressed at the very highest level and we need to know that the government recognises the gravity of this and the importance of fully protecting our national security.”

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran called for “an urgent independent investigation to uncover the truth”, adding: “Was Liz Truss’s phone hacked by Russia, was there a news blackout and if so why?

“If it turns out this information was withheld from the public to protect Liz Truss’s leadership bid, that would be unforgivable.”

Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, told Sky News: “I have seen these reports. I don’t know the value or the sources and so forth. It is something for the sister committee, the Intelligence and Security Committee I think to investigate further.”

The government said it would not comment on an individuals’ security arrangements, but a spokesperson added: “The government has robust systems in place to protect against cyber threats.

“That includes regular security briefings for ministers, and advice on protecting their personal data and mitigating cyber threats.”

Reports on the hacking come as Rishi Sunak is resisting demands to launch an inquiry into Suella Braverman for her security breach.

He reappointed her as home secretary just six days after she was forced out after sharing a sensitive document with a Tory backbencher from a personal email without permission.

“Leaky Sue” the story that isn’t going away

Rishi Sunak is facing a crunch vote on the release of documents related to his controversial decision to appoint Suella Braverman as home secretary, as the prime minister comes under growing pressure.

Question is: how comfortable are the security agencies going to be in sharing secrets with her?

[And now we learn of Liz Truss’ mobile phone being hacked]

Adam Forrest 

Labour has vowed to table a “humble address” that could force the government to share the security and risk assessments regarding Ms Braverman’s admitted security lapse.

Sir Keir Starmer’s party has demanded that Mr Sunak clarifies what he knew about Ms Braverman sharing documents from her own email account, and whether she may have leaked market-sensitive data.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said the prime minister and home secretary “cannot keep running away from these questions”, stating: “Our country’s security is too important for this Tory chaos.”

She added: “Labour will use every parliamentary mechanism open to force the government to come clean over [Ms Braverman’s] reappointment, to get answers, and to require detailed documents to be released to the intelligence and security committee.”

The humble address motion, set to be put forward on the next opposition day, would be binding, meaning that if Labour can win support from enough Tory rebels, the Sunak government will be forced to reveal the relevant documents.

Tory MPs have questioned the new prime minister’s judgement in handing Ms Braverman a key role as he attempted to shore up support for his leadership bid from the right of the party.

Veteran Tory MP Roger Gale told The Independent: “He did not do himself any favours, and it’s a shame he reappointed Suella Braverman. It took the shine off [a reshuffle] that everybody felt, ‘Yeah I can live with that.’”

Ms Braverman was reappointed only six days after she was fired by Mr Sunak’s predecessor Liz Truss for breaching ministerial rules by sending a sensitive government document from her personal email.

Several officials have disputed Ms Braverman’s claim to have reported her mistake to the cabinet secretary Simon Case as soon as she realised – with sources telling the BBC on Saturday that she had initially been “in denial” about the breach.

Ms Braverman is understood to have sent sensitive documents to her ally Tory MP John Hayes, but accidentally also copied in another MP who informed the party’s chief whip before the details were passed on to Mr Case.

According to The Sun, Ms Braverman leaked details about a “growth visa” planned by Ms Truss. Opposition parties have called on Mr Sunak to clarify whether Ms Braverman leaked market-sensitive data, since any details regarding growth plans could affect Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts.

Mr Sunak has resisted Labour and Lib Dem demands to launch a Cabinet Office inquiry into Ms Braverman’s breach of the ministerial code. Conservative MP Caroline Nokes has backed opposition calls for an investigation, and former Tory chair Sir Jake Berry described the breach as “really serious”.

Labour MP Chris Bryant told LBC that Tory ministers had said Ms Braverman would “have to go” because “they believe she is a threat to national security”. One Tory MP told the i: “I am afraid I agree with Keir Starmer, that this is a grubby deal.”

Removal vans were seen taking Mr Sunak’s belongings into Downing Street on Saturday, as the new PM and his family moved back into the same flat above No 10 that they used to occupy when he was chancellor.

As he struggles to draw a line under the row, Mr Sunak has hired ITV News chief Amber de Botton as his new director of communications. Unlike a civil servant, Ms De Botton – who has also worked at Sky News – will be able to give political advice to ministers.

Meanwhile, Sir Keir said on Saturday that it was not “a real laugh to crash the economy” as he argued that the country does not need a “comedian” as prime minister.

He was asked about countering his image as a “dull” politician in an interview with Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts, and said he found “the whole discussion pretty tedious to be honest”.

Sir Keir said: “We actually had a comedian with Boris Johnson, and it really didn’t go very well. And then we had Liz Truss. I don’t think it was a real laugh to crash the economy with that kamikaze budget.”

Peter Brookes – The Times

Developer donation from new homes built in Honiton boosts annual farming event

New homes built in East Devon have helped boost the farming community through a developer donation to Honiton Agricultural Show.

Becca Gliddon

Taylor Wimpey, who is building new homes in the town, has given a cash gift to the agricultural show and pledged to sponsor Honiton Band when it performs at the 2023 event.

Marcelle Connor, Honiton and District Agricultural Association secretary, said: “We can’t thank Taylor Wimpey enough for their support.

“The housebuilder’s contribution to this year’s event helped us host live music and make the event that bit more special for all of our guests.”

The developer said its donation was made as part of its ‘ongoing commitment’ to working with the local community.

Richard Plant, Taylor Wimpey Exeter spokesman, said: “We were delighted to be able to support this year’s Honiton Agricultural Show by sponsoring the Honiton Band so that they could perform throughout the event.

“This has grown to be one of the largest one-day agricultural shows in the country and it’s been a pleasure to support such a special local event.”

Traditionally, the annual agricultural show, set out on a140-acre site, is held on the first Thursday in August.

The show showcases the best of the region’s farming, produce, crafts and rural skills.

The agricultural show is an annual event.

This is what voters really think of Rishi Sunak

The bad news for Rishi Sunak is that voters do not think he is a fresh start, just the latest version of Tory chaos. He can hardly blame them.

Andrew Grice 

Focus groups conducted by Labour show the public think Sunak had to make Suella Braverman home secretary to appease parts of his party with whom he disagrees. Sunak is seen as a rich man who, in a typical comment, “doesn’t get what it’s like for us”. Two out of three people want a general election now, in line with The Independent’s petition, according to Labour’s private polling.

The good news for Sunak: there is another side to the public opinion coin. Research for the centrist Tory think tank Onward shows that a majority of the 2019 Tory voters the party has lost are “don’t knows” rather than people who now back Labour or other parties. The Tories have lost four times as many voters than Labour has gained. If the Tories could win back the “don’t knows”, they would be within touching distance of Keir Starmer’s party.

Onward argues that the key is to revert to economic interventionism and social conservatism of the 2019 Tory manifesto. Indeed, Sunak is talking up the manifesto, in the hope of uniting his fractious MPs and repelling the growing calls for an election by insisting the Tories still have a mandate.

Sunak’s most immediate headache is the economy. Treasury sources tell me its latest predictions for the economy could leave Jeremy Hunt with a £50bn black hole to fill in his autumn statement on 17 November. However, I suspect they are painting it blacker than it is, in the hope the spending cuts and tax rises don’t look quite so bad on the day.

Whatever the real picture, Sunak and Hunt desperately need every ounce of growth they can muster to reduce government debt. Sunak is a 2016 Brexiteer, but a pragmatic – rather than ideological – one. Hunt was a Remainer who fully accepts the Brexit decision, but does not have Liz Truss’s zeal of the convert. So they know there is one thing they could do to boost growth: confront the elephant in the room by revisiting Boris Johnson’s threadbare Brexit deal.

While ministers point to global economic problems, the frictions and barriers of the Brexit deal are a unique drag anchor on UK trade, competitiveness, prices and the business investment needed to secure growth. Trade in goods with the EU has become cumbersome, costly and bureaucratic, while regulatory barriers hinder much of the trade in services.

The public’s reaction to changing Johnson’s deal might be less hostile than Sunak imagines. Onward found that Brexit was the second most cited issue by the Tories’ lost voters when asked where the government had most gone wrong, after political scandals.

Polling for the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change found that six out of 10 people believe Brexit has worsened the UK economy, including over a third of Leave voters. A majority of people, including Leavers, overwhelmingly support a better-functioning relationship with the EU, with 77 per cent backing closer trade and border arrangements.

Pro-Europeans in both the Tory and Labour ranks are setting Sunak a test. They accept this generation of politicians is not going to reverse Brexit, but say the prime minister must now make it work. They say there are many measures, short of rejoining the single market or customs union, which would help British companies and stop more of them moving to the continent.

In a speech at Oxford University on Thursday night, Peter Mandelson argued that Sunak’s “biggest test” is whether he can “put the nation’s need to work with the EU to solve problems before his party’s desire to seek confrontation with Europe at every turn”. The former business secretary and EU trade commissioner said: “He [Sunak] is not going to be able to confront the challenges facing Britain without first taking on those who won’t face up to the reality of our post-Brexit economic and trade choices and the importance of building a stable relationship with the EU.”

Although Starmer is often accused of ignoring the Brexit elephant to avoid handing the Tories ammunition, Mandelson suggested that might be changing, given the Labour leader’s strong belief in a partnership between government and business. “Labour is not going to reopen the original Brexit decision,” he said, “but nor should it be held hostage to its terms because we know that Britain needs to exploit trade opportunities in Europe more fully if we are to start growing again.”

Sunak would probably agree, in private. The question is whether he has the courage and political space to confront the hardline Brexiteers in his party. His decision to reappoint Braverman, the darling of the European Research Group, suggests not. But he has a golden opportunity: the “Singapore-on-Thames” version of a low tax, low regulation Brexit Britain has been discredited by Truss’s disastrous premiership.

For his party’s sake (to deliver growth) and the country’s (given the dire state of the public finances), Sunak cannot afford to be a prisoner of the right. He will need to bite the Brexit bullet.

Councils forced to buy 40,000 mirrors to put in polling stations as a result of voter ID laws

The Government is making councils buy 40,000 mirrors to put inside polling stations in order to comply with its own laws requiring voters to show ID, i can reveal.

Hugo Gye 

The new laws will make it obligatory for everyone who wishes to vote to show their face to a member of staff at the polling station so it can be checked against their passport, driving licence or another firm of identification.

A provision in the legislation designed to protect the sensibilities of people who cover their face for religious reasons states that each station must have an area set aside with a “privacy screen” and mirror, where voters can show their face in private and then assemble their headwear.

It has now emerged that this will involve the purchase of a new mirror for every one of the 40,000 polling stations in the UK ahead of the local elections scheduled for next May.

Minister Andrew Stephenson said in a response to a written parliamentary question: “We estimate that one mirror will need to be purchased for each polling station and assume that there are 40,000 polling stations based on the 2019 elections.”

The requirement was criticised by Labour and electoral campaigners. MP Luke Pollard, who obtained the response, said: “At a time when families are struggling to access public services, making councils buy 40,000 mirrors is a howling waste of public money. This Government cannot be trusted to look after taxpayers’ money.”

Darren Hughes, of the Electoral Reform Society, added: “This is yet another result of the Government’s warped priorities when it comes to our elections. Instead of encouraging more people to vote, they’re putting up barriers instead. Now, ministers find themselves faced with finding solutions to the problems their own ID policy has created for voters.

“It’s vital people’s needs are addressed when attending a polling station, but it’s not just the lack of mirrors and privacy booths that will deter voters but the unnecessary requirement to show photo ID instead.”

Ministers have previously estimated that the cost to taxpayers of buying new equipment to comply with the law will be a total of around £2m.

A spokesman for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “We are implementing voter identification in a way that works for all voters, including those with protected characteristics. Money for any new equipment will be provided by central government.”

UK councils slashing services to meet £3.2bn budget shortfall

Libraries and children’s centres are closing and home pick-ups for young disabled people being cancelled as councils try to meet a £3.2bn budget shortfall next year.

Rowena Mason 

With inflation and energy prices eating into budgets, local authorities across the UK are facing a record black hole that is unlikely to be plugged by central governmentas the Treasury is seeking to squeeze spending to make up for a £30-50bn shortfall in the public finances.

The trade union Unison collected data from 391 councils, compiled through freedom of information requests and financial statements, and found that almost nine in 10 have a predicted budget gap in the 2023/24 financial year.

Unison said its data shows the biggest budget shortfall of £80m next year is being faced by Birmingham city council, which lists Liz Truss’s mini-budget as one of the contributing factors in its worsening finances.

In the last few days, the numbers have worsened in several major council areas. Edinburgh council reported this week it is also facing a £80m black hole, up from £70m last month, with the Labour local leader warning of “probably the worst cuts I’ve seen in my time in this council”.

Kent county council said it was increasing its projected overspend to £70m, up from £50m just three months ago, with its Conservative council leader telling colleagues: “We’ve never been looking at a projected set of pressures on this scale; no one should doubt the gravity of the situation.” It said not a single department would be immune from cuts.

In Lancashire, the council said this week that its project shortfall has almost trebled, from £30.5m to £87m – even bigger than Birmingham. It is looking at cost-cutting measures on everything from cutting the grass less often to spending less on children’s home placements.

Unison’s investigation found that waste collections, leisure centres, nurseries and other vital services are already being cut in some local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales as they prepare for a tough year ahead. The data suggested the cumulative funding gap is to worsen to more than £5.28bn in 2024/25.

Some of the current and impending cuts include:

– Wirral Council shutting nine libraries by the end of this month, with two being handed to community and church groups

– Gateshead Council looking at closing two leisures centres deemed “unaffordable” as it grapples with a £6.5m shortfall

– Leeds city council cancelling Bonfire Night events in six locations next month to save £200,000 of non-essential spending at a time of budget pressures

– Hillingdon council, covering Boris Johnson’s constituency, planning to close all three of its nurseries, which provide more than 100 childcare places across the borough

– Hampshire County Council planning to scrap a transport scheme that take thousands of disabled children to school to save £1m. Home pick-ups would be replaced with drop-off points

– Norfolk county council planning to reduce access to recycling centres by closing them on Wednesdays, with its Tory council leader warning he had never dealt with funding reductions on this scale, to plug a £60m gap

The Local Government Association has warned Jeremy Hunt in a letter that the £3bn-plus shortfall facing councils will lead to cuts, particularly as inflation has worsened since the last local government finance settlement was announced. “Without immediate additional funding, councils will face increasingly stark decisions about which services to stop providing as rising costs hit budgets. This means not just isolated closures of individual facilities but significant cuts to services people rely on, including those to the most vulnerable in our society,” it said.

On Thursday, the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) also said its councils were facing pressures “on a scale never seen”, with “painful cuts” to come.

Christina McAnea, the general secretary of Unison, which represents 600,000 local government workers, said: “Cash-strapped councils are having to resort to ever more desperate measures after years of austerity just to keep services going. Now the government looks set to make their predicament infinitely worse with emergency cuts to spending after the mini-budget fiasco.

“Local communities cannot be the ones to pay the price for the government’s grotesque mismanagement of the economy. The new prime minister and chancellor ​must sort the crisis in local government funding, and give councils the cash they need to save services.”

Asked about the £80m shortfall at Birmingham, which is the biggest local authority, council leader Ian Ward said: “Like councils across the country, we are currently working up budget proposals for 2023/24 and everything possible will be done to safeguard the vital services that people across Birmingham rely on.

“As the Local Government Association has made clear, soaring inflation, energy prices and ‘National Living Wage’ pressures are putting council services at risk, while the cost of living crisis, made worse by the Tories crashing our economy, means increased demand for support and services.

“This is a perfect storm for local government and without government action, councils will have no choice but to significantly cut local services. So, if the government is truly committed to levelling up, then the chancellor’s autumn statement on 17 November must not signal a return to austerity.”

A government spokesperson said further details of spending will be set out in the autumn statement in November.

“We recognise councils may be concerned about their budgets in the face of the difficult economic times we are in and we continue to work very closely with them to understand the impact inflation may have,” the spokesperson said.

“This year alone we have made an additional £3.7bn available to ensure councils have the resources they need to deliver vital public services.”

Number of affordable rental homes for those on housing benefit drops by a third in five months

Five of the nine regions (the East, East Midlands, South West, West Midlands, and Yorkshire and the Humber), had fewer than one in 10 affordable one-bed properties.

Adele Robinson

The gap between housing benefit and the actual cost of private rent has risen by 40% in just five months, Sky News has learned.

Figures from the homeless charity Crisis and Zoopla show that affordable homes in England, for those on housing allowance, have declined by more than a third.

It means only 8% of private rental properties, on average, are now affordable to those on housing benefit.

Around 1.7 million households in England currently rely on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) to pay their private rent.

The statistics, which were given exclusively to Sky News, show that for a one-bedroom property households now face gaps, or shortfalls, of over £950 a year on average.

People living in two and three bedroom homes are having to find more than £1,500 and £2,300 (respectively) a year extra on top of their housing benefit.

Crisis chief executive Matt Downie said: “This isn’t a sort of prediction of things getting worse, it already is worse.

“We know that rough sleeping is going up. We know the councils have nowhere to put people.

“And unless, in the November financial statement, the government increases housing benefit in line with inflation, just like they’re talking about for other benefits, this is this is going to be catastrophic.”

Housing benefit levels have been frozen since early 2020 and are based on rents from 2018-2019.

Since then private rental rates have been rising at the fastest rate on record.

Mr Downie describes it as a “false economy”.

He added: “Once somebody becomes homeless, they cost far more to the state and they have to be put in temporary accommodation or helped in other ways.”

The new figures show the poorest households in England are being almost completely priced out of the rental market.

Nicole Hamilton, 27, is living with her two-year-old son Logan in emergency accommodation in London after fleeing domestic violence. She has been staying in a one room flat for months because she’s been unable to find an affordable rental.

The single mother works full time as a project manager but still needs housing allowance to pay rent.

That allowance, however, does not cover the local rents for a two bedroom property in the area where her son attends a childcare setting, and where her family live.

On the morning Sky News visited Nicole she had called the police out at 4.30am because somebody who looked like they were “on drugs” had been hammering on her front door trying to gain access while her son slept.

“I think it’s a bit unsafe,” she said, “I don’t really like it… the thing that is stressful at the moment is they don’t know how long I’m going to be here.”

“(Estate agents) also hear that I’m a single mum I’m on benefits, even though I work full time …and my income is good, but because I use benefits as part of the system to help pay my rent nobody is interested.”

The private rental market has become saturated due to an increasing supply and demand issue.

Rising mortgage rates, changes in tax and legislation have pushed more landlords out.

Renters are also signing up for longer lets which means less stock available.

Inflation and the cost of living have meant that the widening gap between private rent and housing allowance is predicted to get worse.

Cllr David Renard, housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association, also called for the freeze on housing allowance to be lifted, as well as greater support for authorities.

“Councils need more resources in terms of being able to fund homelessness services and to recruit the necessary housing officers to provide that support.

“So local authorities are very short of resources these days because of the increased demand.”

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities released a statement saying: “Our Renters Reform Bill will deliver a fairer deal for renters, empowering them to challenge unjustified rent increases.

“During the pandemic we increased Local Housing Allowance significantly, benefiting over one million households by an average of over £600 a year. This is alongside our Energy Price Guarantee which will save households on average £700 this winter with an extra £1,200 of cost-of-living support for the most vulnerable.”

London saw the most drastic fall in affordable properties, almost halving since April.

The North East, which Zoopla says is the region with the highest proportion of one-bed properties available, has just a quarter of affordable one-beds.

London is second worst with 13%.

According to Crisis, five of the nine regions (the East, East Midlands, South West, West Midlands, and Yorkshire and the Humber), had fewer than one in 10 affordable one-bed properties.

Citizen scientists play key role in helping Devon fish populations thrive

Fish populations could thrive in East Devon thanks to the Lower Otter Restoration Project (LORP). Local residents have been taking part in an ongoing ‘citizen science’ project with the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust and Clinton Devon Estates, helping to carry out fish surveys that form part of the Project PACCo (Promoting Adaptation to Changing Coasts) environmental monitoring work in the Lower Otter Estuary.

Lewis Clarke

LORP is a landscape-scale climate adaptation scheme to address the impact of climate change, by returning the Lower Otter estuary and flood plain to a more natural condition. Its benefits include the re-creation of 55 hectares of intertidal habitats, including mudflat and saltmarsh which provide a home for numerous rare and endangered native and migratory species.

Along with the Saâne Valley in Normandy, France, the estuary is one of two pilot sites where 100 hectares of coastal wetland will be restored under Project PACCo. The aim of PACCo is to demonstrate that it is possible for coastal communities to deliver a range of benefits for people and the environment, by adapting pre-emptively to climate change. Led by the Environment Agency, this project lasting over 3 years has a budget of €25.7m, of which €17.8m in funding has been provided by the European Regional Development Fund, via the Interreg France (Channel) England Programme. The project is also part-funded by the Environment Agency.

Fish surveys carried out on the Lower Otter Estuary

Fish surveys carried out on the Lower Otter Estuary

Volunteers have recently returned to the estuary and saltmarsh areas of the River Otter to continue gathering important baseline data, under the watchful eye of marine fisheries management consultant and marine lead for the Institute of Fisheries Management (IFM), Steve Colclough, a recognised UK expert in the field.

This data will be used as a baseline from which to inform how fish will hopefully thrive in the new saltmarsh area that will be created in 2023, when the embankment of the estuary is breached, as part of the LORP and PACCo schemes.

Steve said the signs are positive. In the latest survey, carried out in late July, similar species of fish were identified at the site, but were smaller, as this year the monitoring was taking place earlier in their life cycle. “It’s what we expected to find, but what this did demonstrate was that they had spent the whole summer in this environment and shows how critically important the area is as a marine nursery ground,” said Steve, who led another monitoring session at the end of September.

Steve continued: “Sadly, we have removed 80 percent of saltmarshes around western Europe over the past 200 years through land claim and sea defence work. Now we have the exciting potential, through this restoration project, to create a new saltmarsh as it was two centuries ago.

“The baseline data we have gathered so far suggest fish will thrive, but it’s not just beneficial for the fish and other wildlife. A new piece of saltmarsh is ten times as good as a piece of woodland for sucking carbon out of the atmosphere.”

Steve first joined volunteers working with the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust/Clinton Devon Estates last September, when the initial two-day monitoring was carried out on the River Otter, which was also designated a Marine Conservation Zone in 2019.

Volunteers using intertidal netting

Volunteers using intertidal netting

Over two days they netted a number of fish species, including mullet, bass, pollock, plaice and an abundance of common gobies. During several training sessions, Steve has taught the volunteers the importance of estuarine areas to fish populations, how they use tidal flows to feed in intertidal habitats and how to identify certain fish species. They were also shown how to safely deploy both fyke and seine netting to catch fish for measuring.

Steve said the monitoring has also shown the strength of ‘citizen science’ in helping advance scientific study. As it has grown in popularity, he says the government is now seriously looking at providing additional support for projects moving forward.

Steve added: “These are local people who care about their local environment and you get a real sense of their commitment. The East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust and Clinton Devon Estates have a long-range plan to carry on this survey work themselves, now they have the trained volunteers to do it. The IFM will continue to support such citizen science programmes going forward.”

Patricia Hitchcock, who lives in Budleigh Salterton, spotted the opportunity for volunteers on social media. She and her husband Brian fish from a canoe off their local beach and she was keen to do what she could to help the local fish population thrive. “I have really enjoyed learning new skills and it’s very much ‘hands on’ too which I prefer,” said Patricia, who has taken part in all the sessions so far, and will join the next survey this month. I like the social side too, meeting new people. They call me the scribe as I write down all the figures for the fish count and then transfer them to a spreadsheet for Steve.”

Established in 2014, LORP is a partnership between landowner Clinton Devon Estates, the Estate’s East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust, the Environment Agency and Kier.

Kendal Archer, PACCo Environmental Project Manager for the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust said that the embankment breach is a key element of the overall LORP and PACCo projects. “It will recreate significant areas of intertidal habitat, which it’s hoped will result in increasing numbers, and maybe species, of fish using the Lower Otter estuary as a nursery and for feeding and shelter,” said Kendal. “Increasing the fish population in this way has a wider importance for wildlife, birdlife and biodiversity as a whole, as well as the socio-economic fabric of the area.

Kendal also paid tribute to the volunteers who had joined the project, adding: “Citizen science formed an important part of the fish monitoring and will continue to do so.”

Other aims of the project include maintaining and securing existing public footpaths, some of which form part of the South West Coast Path, and working with tenant farmers from Clinton Devon Estates to adjust existing land use to make the project possible.

Vulnerable people in supported housing ‘victims of terrible crimes’, says report

England’s supported housing sector is a “complete mess” that is failing communities at the expense of the taxpayer and making residents “victims of terrible crimes at the hands of staff”, according to a scathing select committee report.

Jessica Murray 

The report found loopholes had turned the sector into “a licence to print money” for unscrupulous providers and that there has been “a complete breakdown of the system, which calls for immediate action from government”.

After a year-long investigation into “exempt accommodation”, a type of supported housing for vulnerable people with a broad range of needs, the cross-party levelling up, housing and communities (LUHC) committee called on the government to implement urgent reforms, including national standards and compulsory registration.

“We were absolutely shocked and appalled,” said the Sheffield MP Clive Betts, the chair of the LUHC committee. “As 11 MPs, we’re generally pretty experienced, we’ve been in public service a long time, and I think this was as bad as anything we’ve ever seen.”

The committee heard evidence residents were being “raped and sexually harassed by their landlords under threat of eviction” and “staff were assaulting residents and asking them for sexual acts in return for money, food or better accommodation”.

The report, published on Thursday, said residents had been forced to carry out work, such as tiling a bathroom, “for nothing or for a pittance”, and staff and landlords were selling drugs to residents.

There have also been instances of residents dying of drug overdoses or being murdered by fellow residents.

The Guardian recently reported that organised crime groups were taking millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money by buying properties and setting them up as supported accommodation to receive higher housing benefit rates but providing little to no support for the vulnerable tenants.

“We would describe the system of exempt accommodation as a complete mess,” the report states. “The current system offers a licence to print money to those who wish to exploit the system.”

Exempt accommodation, which is paid for through housing benefit, is set up to support people with a range of needs including refugees, care leavers, the formerly homeless, people with alcohol and drug addiction and those who have recently been released from prison.

It is exempt from locally set housing benefit caps to cover higher costs of maintenance and insurance.

The report criticised the government for failing to collect data on how many exempt accommodation claimants there were or how much taxpayer money was being spent on it, saying “successive governments have been caught sleeping”.

Crisis, a charity for people experiencing homelessness, estimates the number of households living in exempt accommodation grew to 156,868 from 2016-2021, a rise of 65%. A report from Prospect Housing estimated the annual cost in 2020-21 to be £816m, but the committee suggested it could be much higher.

“This issue has been ignored unacceptably. It’s happening all over the country,” said Betts. “We’re seeing people set their own rents, charge what they want and then provide nothing for it but bad accommodation.”

The report calls for urgent reforms, including national minimum standards for support and housing, extra powers for local councils, compulsory registration of all providers and the creation of a national oversight committee to mend “patchwork regulation”.

As part of their inquiry, committee members travelled to Birmingham, which has become a national hotspot for exempt accommodation. The number of claimants in the city rose to nearly 22,000 earlier this year.

The Birmingham MP Preet Gill, who campaigned to shut down a poor-quality exempt accommodation property in her constituency, said “the government needs to urgently get on with the job” of tackling the issue.

“For years I have been sounding the alarm about the explosion of the exempt accommodation sector in Birmingham, which has become a magnet for rogue operators, exploiting vulnerable residents and visiting misery on our area,” she said. “I am delighted the select committee has endorsed many of the reforms we have been campaigning for.”

Sharon Thompson, the Birmingham city council cabinet member for housing and homelessness, said the report reflected what the council “has been saying for a long time”.

“The government has finally woken up to the scale of the problem and, based on this report, they must now commit parliamentary time to bringing in new legislation,” she said.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “It is unacceptable that unscrupulous landlords are trying to profit at the expense of vulnerable people and we are bringing forward a package of measures to stop them in their tracks. This is backed by a £20m investment to drive up quality in the supported housing sector and protect the most vulnerable in society.”

East Devon’s cash saving £2 parking is back

East Devon District Council’s winter deal where car parking costs £2 all day is back. Running until the end of March 2023, you can park all day at any council car park for just £2.

Daniel Clark

The annual winter car parking deal comes at the right time with Christmas just around the corner giving people even more reason to shop local and support their High Street. By reducing car park charges across the district, the council hopes it will help to boost trade over the winter, especially during the typically quieter months of January and February.

Although a printed ticket may not display an expiry time of midnight, it will still be valid for the whole day. You are able to park in multiple locations throughout the whole day as all East Devon car parks across the district are eligible.

Cllr Jack Rowland, EDDC portfolio holder for finance, said: “The car park charge of £2 all day that applies from November 1 through to the end of March next year is great value in these difficult times and I hope that many residents and visitors will take advantage over the next five months and also help our local businesses.”

A spokesperson for East Devon District Council added: “It is hoped that residents and visitors will be able to take advantage of exploring what East Devon has to offer with no time constraint on their stay. From the myriad of local shops to the array of cafes and restaurants, our £2 all day parking ticket gives you the perfect opportunity to enjoy a full day out this winter.”