Another day, more scandal 

Good for a long old Mone:

It’s the VIP contracts scandal that keeps on giving: Baroness Michelle Mone and her kids received £29 million via the massive COVID PPE contract she lobbied to secure for a firm she had links to — and the cash was squirreled offshore out of the clutches of the taxman, the Guardian reveals this morning. The belter of a scoop from David Conn (no pun intended) throws into question the past claims from Mone’s legal representatives that she received no financial benefit from the contract award to the now infamous PPE Medpro. 

From Politico london Playbook

Where now for the Local Plan?

From a concerned correspondent:

Question one of  “A quick survey for the East Devon Local Plan” asks

 Where should new homes and jobs go – the big picture?

The Government currently requires EDDC to plan for around 20,500 extra homes in East Devon (1,040 a year) for the period of 2020 to 2040.

Rishi Sunak is reported to be in the process of climbing down on targets in The Levelling Up Bill and some compromise on imposing “Soviet Style” top down targets seems inevitable.

The question is will East Devon still continue to promote their new plan? Will they follow the example of Bristol and seek the true number of housing that East Devon needs, not some arbitrary figure imposed by central government?

Shouldn’t EDDC start to find out just what the real local need for housing is?

Please make your views known to your EDDC councillors at this early stage and, by default, not build over the agricultural land we so badly need and despoil our wonderful countryside.

Dominic Raab’s ex-private secretaries to lodge formal complaints

Deputy PM Dominic Raab is facing fresh bullying complaints from senior civil servants across multiple government departments, BBC Newsnight has learned.

Simon Jupp was a SpAd to Raab before being selected as the Conservative candidate for East Devon.

Interestingly, Simon recently said this about the “shouty oldies of Salterton”: “There’s no excuse to verbally abuse staff who are just doing their jobs.” 

By Nicholas Watt & Liz Rawlings

A number of Mr Raab’s former private secretaries – senior officials who work most closely with ministers on a daily basis – are preparing to submit formal complaints, sources told the BBC.

Mr Raab requested an investigation into his own conduct towards staff in the wake of two earlier complaints.

He denies any allegations of bullying.

Mr Raab, who is also the justice secretary, maintains he has always acted with integrity and professionalism.

There is now a coordinated effort by former private secretaries of Mr Raab to ensure their allegations are heard as part of the investigation.

Private secretaries work in the private office of government ministers on the day-to-day running of the department, including managing the minister’s diary and advising on policy matters.

Meanwhile, Newsnight has also been told that Mr Raab used his personal email account for government business at two separate departments – once as recently as 2021.

Officials issued multiple warnings to the deputy prime minister not to use his email in this way, a source said.

Mr Raab, however, believes that the way he has used private email does not amount to a breach of the ministerial code, which allows for it to be done in some circumstances.

A friend of Mr Raab said he had used it on occasions to approve tweets and quotes related to government business.

Suella Braverman resigned as home secretary last month in part after admitting a breach of the ministerial code involving use of her private email to share government documents.

Ms Braverman, who has since been reappointed to the role, said this should not be done “where it was not reasonably necessary”.

Dave Penman, chief executive of the FDA union which represents senior civil servants, said: “This is an extraordinary set of circumstances. We’ve never come across a situation where so many civil servants appear to be raising complaints about a minister’s conduct.

“So if they are serious allegations about his conduct, that the prime minister has seen, he has to make a decision – is it safe essentially for civil servants to continue to work with him? That’s what any employer would do.”

The government has appointed Adam Tolley KC to investigate two formal complaints made about Mr Raab’s conduct.

Downing Street said a report would be published “in a timely way”.

Any final judgement on whether Mr Raab was in breach of the ministerial code will remain with Mr Sunak.

Mr Raab has said he will “thoroughly rebut and refute any claims made”.

Water companies dumping sewage during dry weather, SAS report finds

Water companies have been releasing sewage onto beaches and in rivers even when it is not raining, according to a report from Surfers Against Sewage.

Helena Horton 

Sewage spills are only supposed to happen under exceptional circumstances; when it is raining so heavily that the system cannot cope with the amount of water and effluent being spewed at once.

However, there have been anecdotal accounts of local sewage outflows spilling human waste into local waterways even when it is not raining. Now, SAS claims that that these ‘dry spills’ are happening routinely, against regulations which stipulate outflows should only occur during “unusually heavy rainfall”.

Analysing meteorological data from the Met Office as well as spillage data, SAS found that 146 dry spills were detected over a 12-month period, with 95 of these at locations where water quality is classified as “excellent”. Southern Water, the worst offender, was responsible for four times as many dry spills as the next worst offender, South West Water.

Amy Slack, head of campaigns and policy at SAS, said: “Over the last year, the UK public has made clear their disgust at what’s happening to our rivers and seas, and yet water companies continue to pollute at will. It’s especially alarming to uncover evidence of potentially illegal activity by water companies in the form of dry spills, which are not permitted under current regulations. Shareholders and CEOs are unashamedly profiteering off pollution.”

“It’s high time the government stepped up and took real action to curb the destructive and selfish behaviour of the water companies responsible for this literal shit storm.”

According to data from The Environment Agency, sewage has been dumped into the ocean and rivers around the UK more than 770,000 times over the course of 2020 and 2021 – the equivalent of almost 6 million hours.

Sewage in waterways is also making people sick, the report claims.

As part of its water quality report, SAS has also analysed data from 720 sickness reports submitted to its reporting system. The data found that over a third (39%) of sickness cases correlated to sewage discharge alerts, while 63% of cases that were reported to a doctor were attributed to poor water quality.

The most common illness reported after people swam in the sea or rivers was gastroenteritis, with two in three people reporting symptoms associated with the condition. Ear, nose and throat infections were common too, with respiratory, skin and urinary tract infections also reported.

Over half of the sickness reports related to swims at locations classified as “excellent” under the government’s testing regime.

Dr Anne Leonard, an environmental epidemiologist and microbiologist based at the University of Exeter, said: “We’ve known for over 100 years that sewage contains disease-causing microorganisms, and that ingesting water contaminated with this kind of waste causes infections. These infections may be mild, self-limiting illnesses but they can also be really severe infections that require medical treatment.”

Swimmers have reported anger and upset after having to change how they interact with the water following illness.

Julia Walker, a social worker based in Shoreham, West Sussex, said: “I use the sea to help manage stress from my job as a social worker. In September I went for a swim in a popular spot prior to starting a new job. That evening I experienced diarrhoea and stabbing pain in my kidneys. The doctor confirmed I had a bacterial and a kidney infection. They felt that it was very unusual to have both at the same time but said that this was likely caused by swimming in contaminated water.

“I was unwell for six days, which impacted on my new role. It took me a couple of months to get back in the sea, and now I only swim with my head above water for fear of becoming ill again. It makes me very angry that the water companies are affecting how I use the water.”

A spokesperson at Water UK, said: “Companies agree there is an urgent need to tackle storm overflows. They are set to launch one of the country’s largest ever infrastructure programmes, which, if approved by regulators, will deliver £56bn of improvements for our rivers and seas. That builds on at least £3bn of improvements in the last couple of years alone.

Members of Hastings and St Leonards Clean Water Action protest against raw sewage release incidents on the beach in St Leonards, Sussex, in August. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

“To accelerate progress further, we need government to end housing developers’ uncontrolled connections to sewers without first knowing their capacity, and to end the flushing of wet wipes made from materials that cause blockages and fatbergs. Both are major causes of sewer overloading and spills. We also need government to implement existing legislation in order to increase the use of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) on new developments as a means of reducing the volume of rainwater entering the sewer system.”

Southern Water told the Guardian: “Storm releases, which go a long way to reduce the impact of the type of flooding we have seen recently, and which are permitted by The Environmental Agency, reduced by nearly 50% this year compared to last, in part due to a dry summer. We’re investing £2bn to improve environmental performance and further reduce their use, by increasing storage capacity and working with partners to reduce the rain runoff entering the system.

“Our data on storm overflows, including unconsented spills, is submitted to The Environment Agency. Our annual bathing water update details how we are working to create healthier rivers and seas. This improvement is being achieved through record additional investment to reduce pollution and prevent flooding, industry-leading monitoring and transparency on spill reporting, and the exploration of innovative, nature-based and engineering solutions.”

Ambulance service ‘in meltdown’ as one in four 999 calls missed in October

Ambulance crews could not respond to almost one in four 999 calls last month – the most ever – because so many were tied up outside A&Es waiting to hand patients over, dramatic new NHS figures show.

Do you remember 2017, the year the local Tories ruthlessly started stripping out our Community Hospitals?  – Owl

Denis Campbell 

An estimated 5,000 patients in England – also the highest number on record – potentially suffered “severe harm” through waiting so long either to be admitted to A&E or just to get an ambulance to turn up to help them.

Ambulance officers warned that patients were dying every day directly because of the delays since the service could no longer perform its role as a “safety net” for people needing urgent medical help.

“The life-saving safety net that NHS ambulance services provide is being severely compromised by these unnecessary delays and patients are dying and coming to harm as a result on a daily basis,” said Martin Flaherty, managing director of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE), which represents the heads of England’s 10 regional NHS ambulance services.

Flaherty added: “Our national data for hospital handover delays during October 2022 is extremely worrying and underlines the fact that in some parts of the country efforts to reduce or eradicate these devastating and unnecessary delays are simply not working.”

The association’s latest monthly handover delays report, published on Wednesday, reveals that the performance of ambulance services fell to its lowest ever level in October.

The report shows that 169,000 hours of ambulance crews’ time across the month was lost due to delays. It meant that paramedics could not answer 135,000 calls. That number represented 23% of ambulance services’ total “potential capacity” to respond to 999 calls.

All three totals are the worst in NHS history.

“The ambulance service is in meltdown. These figures show that it is on its knees and close to collapse as a result of vacancies, underfunding, morale being at a very low ebb and demand for ambulance care having doubled to 14m calls a year since 2010,” said Rachel Harrison, national secretary of the GMB union, which represents 15,000 staff in English ambulance services.

Ambulance services’ ability to respond rapidly to patients needing emergency and potentially life-saving care is being hampered increasingly by hospitals being unable to admit people to A&E fast enough. That is because they have almost 14,000 beds occupied by patients who are fit enough to leave but cannot be safely discharged, mainly because social care provision is inadequate to allow going home or entering a care home.

Steve Barclay, the health secretary, has identified handover delays as one of the greatest challenges facing the NHS. A&E doctors share AACE’s concern that patients are suffering sometimes serious harm, and even dying, as a result of long delays to their treatment.

The AACE report also discloses that:

  • 18% of ambulance handovers took more than an hour last month, when the NHS target is 15 minutes – a nine-fold increase on the 2% seen in October 2019.
  • The average handover time was 42 minutes, up 12 minutes from October 2021 and up 23 mins from Oct 2020.
  • The number of one, two, three and 10-hour handovers was the highest ever recorded.
  • Delays exposed an estimated 41,000 patients to potential harm, of whom about 5,000 were put at risk of, or experienced, “severe harm”, including death.

“These figures are a national disgrace but they only confirm what GMB members tell us every day,” added Harrison. “We’ve got ambulances waiting outside hospitals for more than a day, while terrified workers wait and hope their patients won’t die. In fact, a third of GMB ambulance workers think a delay they’ve been involved with has led to the death of a patient. It can’t carry on.”

The most recent NHS England data showed that ambulances were taking almost 10 minutes to reach patients facing a life-threatening emergency. The NHS target response is seven minutes.

Dr Sitso Amankwah, a GP in Kingston, London, tweeted on Tuesday about a patient who had taken an Uber ride to A&E rather than face a potentially long wait for an ambulance. “That’s good, so not unwell enough to need 999 then,” the GP told the patient. “No, I felt awful, but … Uber could get me there in less than four hours,” the patient replied. Amankwah added: “Ladies and gentlemen, I present you the NHS in 2022.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The government is clear that the NHS is a top priority and we are making up to £8bn available for health and social care in 2024/25.

“We are providing record-breaking funding which will help get us through the winter. This is on top of the action we’ve already taken including … delivering 50,000 more nurses, increasing the number of NHS call handlers, and creating the equivalent of at least 7,000 more beds, to improve patient flow through hospitals and get ambulances back on the roads quickly. We will publish a full recovery plan for urgent and emergency care next year.”

Affordable homes boost for Exeter

Affordable housing in Exeter has received a boost following the awarding of £293,391 government funding for a scheme in the city.

Exeter City Council

The money – from the Brownfield Land Release Fund – will allow up to15 affordable homes to be built in Lower Wear Road.

The funding for Lower Wear Road is part of an overall £911,000 that will see four projects across Devon benefit from government funding. All four projects are on brownfield sites.

The Devon and Torbay One Public Estate Partnership successfully secured the money from the Brownfield Land Release Funding to support the projects.

The funding is a share of £35.9 million awarded to English councils to enable the release of council brownfield land for housing.

The scheme will allow 15 affordable homes to be built using a modular build approach. It is the first scheme of its type that Exeter has put forward for Brownfield Land Release Funding and it will also use the Prisoners Building Homes programme, working with Exeter Prison offenders to construct the modular homes.

Cllr Barbara Denning, Lead Councillor with responsibility for Council Housing, said: “I am delighted with this funding which will help deliver much needed affordable housing in the city.”

The Lower Wear Road scheme is one of a number of sites that the Council are investigating for the delivery of new build, low energy, council housing. This site forms part of the overall Housing Revenue Account development programme, with the aim of delivering 500 new Council Housing homes by 2030.

Other projects across the county set to benefit from the funding are:

  • Shapland Place and St Andrews Estate – Mid Devon District Council. £100 million to create 14 affordable modular homes.
  • St Kildas Brixham – Torbay Council. Provide 23 affordable homes to be delivered by 2025.

Councillor Rufus Gilbert, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Economic Recovery and Skills, said: “I’m pleased that a number of areas across Devon and Torbay will benefit from this latest round of funding and we’ll be bidding for more in future rounds. The One Public Estate programme is ensuring vital gap funding is making it possible for these essential housing projects to go ahead which is good news for local residents and our local economy.”

The Devon & Torbay One Public Estate partnership is made up of 10 local authorities (Devon County Council, East Devon District Council, Exeter City Council, Mid Devon District Council, North Devon Council, South Hams District Council, Teignbridge District Council, Torbay Council, Torridge District Council and West Devon Borough Council) as well as the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, Devon & Cornwall Police, Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, the NHS, and South Western Ambulance Service.

The Brownfield Land Release Fund is administered through the One Public Estate programme which is a partnership between the Office of Government Property in the Cabinet Office, the Local Government Association and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Up to £180 million in capital grants will be available through Brownfield Land Release Funding over the next three years. The Devon and Torbay One Public Estate Partnership is currently developing a plan for the later rounds.