Sign in the sand: Campaigners against female hate crime spell out their support for women 

A support message to women worldwide was spotted in the sand on Exmouth beach when a faith group raised awareness of female hate crime.

Becca Gliddon

Swimmers from Exmouth Quakers braved freezing temperatures for a dip in the sea on Saturday (December 10) in a bid to raise awareness to end femicide, and violence against women across the world.

Show of support: Exmouth Quakers and members of Fear Less raise awareness of female hate crime. Photo: Devon and Cornwall Police.

The campaigners left their message in huge letters in the sand, spelling out #unacceptable.

The message won the support of the police in East Devon, who are working to stop violence against women.

Inspector Antonia Weeks, Exmouth sector, said: “We would like to congratulate those who turned out in the cold at Exmouth beach to support this important cause.

“Devon and Cornwall Police is working hard to reduce violence against women and girls – and local partners such as domestic abuse charities are key to helping us make a difference.”

Devon and Cornwall Police said the faith group was joined by members of Fear Less, a charity supporting women and children escaping domestic violence and abuse in Devon and across the South West.

The two groups went into the cold sea together, then warmed up over hot drinks and cake served on the beach.

The police said the Exmouth Quakers and Fear Less were supporting 16 Days of Action against Gender-Based Violence, an annual international campaign running from November 25 until December 10.

New parish council to be set up for Colyford

At a time when some town/parish councils struggle to find councillors, it is encouraging to see a local community keen to get involved in local democratic decision making. – Owl

Colyford is to get its own parish council to reflect its separate identity from Colyton. 

Philippa Davies 

Colyford Parish Council will legally come into being on April 1 2023 and seven parish councillors will be elected in May. 

The move, which was agreed at the authority’s full council meeting on Wednesday, December 7, will also see the number of Colyton Parish Council members reduced from 13 to 11. 

The new council is being set up after the Colyford Village Residents’ Association asked East Devon District Council to carry out a community governance review, which is the process for creating, merging or abolishing parishes.

A petition signed by 249 people said: “The community of Colyford has thus clearly expressed their wish for a village council to be set up, and this should be given considerable weight. We have shown that Colyford has its own identity and sense of place, and that community cohesion will be enhanced by having its own village council. We have shown that a village council for Colyford will be effective and convenient, and will provide strong and accountable local government and community leadership. We therefore respectfully request that EDDC exercise their powers under the Act and undertake a Community Governance Review and recommend the formation of a village council for Colyford.” 

Two statutory consultations were held this year prior to the boundary being drawn up for the new parish council. 

Councillor Sarah Jackson, EDDC’s portfolio holder for democracy, transparency and communications, said: “It is evident from the recent consultation that the residents of Colyford feel a sense of identity separate from that of Colyton, and a clear desire to be self-governed via the formation of a new parish council, and so I am pleased to see this decision which enables the communities of both Colyford and Colyton to move forward with complete autonomy.  

“I sincerely hope that both parish councils will work collaboratively where the need arises in the best interests of all of their residents. 

 “I’d like to thank everyone who took part in the consultations and governance review. I look forward to seeing the new parish councillors elected in May.” 

‘Will any Tory MPs have the guts to support legitimate pay demands?’

Why have the Conservatives got it in for people who work for a living? Why is Rishi Sunak so determined to force workers to accept increases of only 4 or 5 per cent – which with inflation at 11 per cent amounts to a serious pay cut – while pensioners and claimants will get inflation-matching rises next April?

Martin Shaw, Chair, East Devon Alliance

I’m old enough to remember when we clapped our hands each week for key workers. I even remember Mr Sunak joining in. How come that it’s now these very workers who must pay the price of the economic mess that the government has got us into?

They say that giving workers proper pay rises will keep push up inflation still further. But the government itself has just massively stoked inflation by raising electricity and gas prices by 27 per cent on 1st October, with 20 per cent more to come on 1st April. So why can’t workers have 10 per cent like everyone else, to keep pace with prices?

The government also says there is no more money left. But they’re still letting the ‘non-doms’ off their share of tax, they’ve just handed the banks a big tax rebate, and they’ve barely touched the energy firms’ huge windfall profits. Tory chair Nadim Zahawi even had the gall to say that workers are playing into the hands of Vladimir Putin, although it’s the Conservatives who’ve long flirted with Russian oligarchs.

Like everyone else, including I’m quite sure the workers themselves, I’d like to avoid the looming strikes. But fair-minded people will recognise that nurses, ambulance workers, teachers, post and railway workers have a right to take action, faced with huge price hikes and after a decade of austerity has eroded their living standards. It’s the government which needs to start listening, not only to their legitimate claims, but to the widespread support which they have from the general public.

The evidence, however, is that Mr Sunak only listens to his own MPs. Last week he ended his government’s block on onshore wind farms, a cheap and quickly built source of electricity, because enough Tory backbenchers had finally recognised the need for more renewables. But no sooner had he done that than he caved into other backbenchers who wanted a carbon-emitting coal mine in Cumbria. The UK’s green reputation is in tatters.

Sunak also gave into backbenchers over the government’s dictatorial housing targets for local councils. I’ve long opposed this system because it forces councils to allow developments of large detached houses in unsuitable semi-rural locations while doing little, if anything, to provide housing for rent on sustainable brownfield sites.

Although details are still to be confirmed, this shift should allow EDDC to revise the new Local Plan which is currently under consultation. Since even the government now accepts that community consent should be required for new developments, I hope that councillors will look again at some of the greenfield sites currently earmarked for housing.

The problem with Sunak’s U-turns is that there is no joined-up policy behind them. Wind farms are now allowed, but a large-scale programme to insulate homes and develop renewable energy, in ways that fit with the local environment in each area, is still nowhere to be seen. Housebuilding targets are no longer binding, but the problems caused by empty properties and second homes have barely been touched and there is no concerted campaign to provide the social housing which is the No. 1 need in Devon and across the country.

Will any Tory MPs now pick up these challenges, or have the guts to support workers’ legitimate pay demands? Don’t hold your breath – we seem set for two more years of drift and damage before we can finally remove this administration.

Number of people in hospital with Covid in England rises 22% in a week (56% in South West)

The scale of the increase varies by region. The number of beds occupied by Covid patients in the south-west rose from 466 to 726, a 56% increase.

Nicola Davis 

The number of people in hospital with Covid-19 in England has risen 22% in a week, the latest figures reveal.

There were 6,720 people in hospital with the virus on 14 December, up from 5,501 on 7 December, according to data released by NHS England.

The number of mechanical ventilation beds occupied by confirmed Covid patients rose from 129 to 150 over the same period.

The scale of the increase varies by region. The number of beds occupied by Covid patients in the south-west rose from 466 to 726, a 56% increase.

Prof David Strain of the University of Exeter Medical School, said most of those primarily being treated for Covid were eligible for an autumn booster vaccination but had not yet had the jab. “The hospitalisations are going up but there is also the knock on effect on staff,” he said.

Hospital admissions involving people with Covid have also risen. There were 5,250 in the seven days to 14 December, a 28% rise from the 4,113 in the previous week.

Some patients in hospital with Covid are likely to have been admitted for a different reason, but further data from NHS England reveals that the number of people primarily being treated for Covid in acute trusts increased by 17% between 6 and 13 December from 5,096 to 5,982.

The data chimes with figures from the Office for National Statistics that suggests Covid infection levels are on the rise in England again, with 1.73%, or 1 in 60, people in the community estimated to have the virus in the week ending 26 November, up from 1.60% the previous week.

The rise comes as the NHS is experiencing unprecedented industrial action, with nurses at many hospitals striking on 15 and 20 December and ambulance staff on 21 and 28 December.

Prof Mark Woolhouse, an expert on infectious diseases at Edinburgh University, said that while Covid cases were rising, the increase was “nothing like as explosive” as this time last year when the Omicron variant arrived, and that the obvious public health advice was to avoid others if you have symptoms of a cold.

“Some people are choosing to wear masks, which do offer some protection, particularly the medical grade variety. Some may choose to test themselves before meeting up with others, particularly others in the vulnerable category,” he said.

“So there is a lot we can do to reduce the risk to ourselves and those around us if we choose, with having the booster vaccination when offered at the top of the list.”

Tory support collapses in seaside towns as Sunak warned of Labour ‘red wave’

Strong support for the Conservatives in seaside towns has collapsed, new research has found, as Rishi Sunak was warned of a “red wave” on the coast.

Adam Forrest

A new study by YouGov and the Fabian Society revealed a major slump in Tory support since 51 per cent of voters in “sea wall” seats backed Boris Johnson’s party in 2019.

Support for Rishi Sunak’s party is now on just 32 per cent – a 19-point fall – with Labour now ahead in seaside seats on 38 per cent.

“The tide has turned in the Tory-dominated sea wall,” said The Fabian Society’s Ben Cooper – who said Sir Keir Starmer should be aiming to make sure “a red wave becomes a tsunami” at the general election.

Researchers looked at a group of 108 coastal constituencies in England and Wales, with deprivation often higher than the national average and many voters saying they felt “left behind” by Westminster.

Despite Mr Johnson’s success in capitalising on the resentment, a clear majority of voters in coastal towns now believe the Tory party “does not understand people in their local area nor share their values”, according to Mr Cooper.

The senior researcher said Labour now has a 22-point lead in 54 especially important seaside seats – 24 which they must hold and 30 identified as winnable marginals.

“Labour is now on the path towards a broad national mandate at the next election. Coastal towns are often overlooked, but they will be a key part of Labour’s election-winning coalition,” he said.

Warning against complacency, Mr Cooper added: “Labour still has to work hard to secure the votes of key coastal towns at the next election.”

The demographics of sea-wall constituencies still pose a major challenge to Labour. They have a larger proportion of voters over 55 and non-graduates – voters who have moved away from the party in recent elections.

The Fabians said the party should appeal to financial security, stability and family to appeal to voters in the seaside constituencies, many of which voted by a large majority to leave the EU during the Brexit referendum.

Many people in coastal towns told pollsters that their area is now worse off on the affordability of housing and opportunities for young people, as well as healthcare and access to public transport.

“Labour needs a unifying, ‘one nation’ platform and must address specific concerns in coastal towns,” said Mr Cooper. “The good news is, it can do that without losing ground in other marginal seats across the country.”

The findings come as a major study by Savanta and Electoral Calculus forecast that Labour would win 482 seats and the Tories just 69, a massive 314-seat majority.

The Tories would lose all seats north of Lincolnshire – including Mr Sunak’s own Richmond constituency in Yorkshire – if current polling was replicated at the election.

Labour is up three on 48 per cent, the Tories down five on 28 per cent, and the Lib Dems up one at 11 per cent, the latest Savanta voting intention survey found.

It would mean the Tories facing an almost total wipeout in red-wall seats in the north of England and Midlands, while losing plenty of blue-wall seats in the south to the Lib Dems, according to detailed analysis of new poll findings.

Council opposes Government plan for voter ID in elections

East Devon District Council is calling for a postponement of the new photographic ID rules due to come into force in next May’s local elections. 

Philippa Davies

A motion opposing the introduction of photographic voter ID was carried at the full council meeting on Wednesday, December 7. 

The motion was tabled by Cllr Jess Bailey (Independent, West Hill and Aylesbeare), who described the new rules as ‘a sledgehammer to crack a non-existent nut’. She said despite millions of people going to the polls across England, Scotland and Wales in 2021, there was only one single case of ‘impersonation’.  

Cllr Bailey said the real reason behind the new rules was about ‘creating an uneven playing field designed to make it easier for Conservative candidates to win, whether in local elections or national elections’. 

Her motion, seconded by Cllr Joe Whibley (Independent, Exmouth Town) said the new rules would have the effect of ‘suppressing voter participation in the democratic process’ and would be particularly detrimental for younger voters. The acceptable forms of ID would include a passport, driving licence, biometric Immigration document, and various bus passes and travel documents issued to the over 60s. 

The motion said the voter ID requirement would also place a considerable burden on the officers presiding over the elections, and push up costs at a time when council budgets are under unprecedented pressure. 

The council agreed to ask the Local Government Association (LGA) and the District Councils Network (DCN) to raise its concerns with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and ask for voter ID not to be introduced ahead of the May elections. 

There was cross party support for the motion, although Conservatives Cllr Philip Skinner and Cllr Bruce de Sarum both voted against it. 

The LGA is already calling for the introduction of voter ID to be postponed. A spokesperson said: “While we accept that voter ID has now been legislated for, electoral administrators and returning officers should be given the appropriate time, resource, clarity and detailed guidance to implement any changes to the electoral process without risking access to the vote. 

“We support the Gould Principle whereby electoral law should not be changed within six months of an election that the change would impact.” 

Owl helped to wing it on Monday’s switch off

Owl, with a bit of help from a million others, participated in Monday’s Nation Grid “demand flexibility service” request to reduce demand between 5pm and 7pm.

As a result, two old coal fired power generating stations that had been put on stand-by did not need to be brought on-line to meet the predicted demand peak, nor was there any need for power cuts.

Britons save £3m by using power-hungry appliances at quieter times

Alex Lawson 

Britons have saved almost £3m by using tumble dryers and other power-hungry devices at quieter times, under a scheme that aims to reduce the strain on electricity networks, National Grid has said.

The electricity system operator (ESO) launched an initiative last month to incentivise consumers and businesses to reduce their energy use, by running appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers and tumble dryers before or after particular designated periods when demand was expected to be heavy.

National Grid said on Wednesday the “demand flexibility service” had delivered more than 780 megawatt (MW) hours of demand reduction, and £2.8m in savings over five test periods since the scheme launched last month.

More than 1m households and firms had signed up to participate, it said. Customers are normally given 24 hours notice to shift their power usage from a peak period – typically 4pm to 7pm. Savings are passed on via energy suppliers to customers who have signed up.

Craig Dyke, the head of national control at the ESO, said: “Delivering the first of the demand flexibility service test events is a major milestone in the evolution of consumer flexibility in the UK. This service successfully proves that consumers up and down the country are standing by to get involved in flexibility solutions.”

Separately, gas and power prices fell on Wednesday in signs that the strain on the UK and Europe’s energy supplies was easing despite the icy weather.

A marked increase in nuclear output from power stations in France and hydroelectric power in southern Europe has lifted pressure on electricity supplies across northern Europe.

The UK price for gas for delivery on Thursday fell 4% at 332p a therm, while month-ahead prices were down 5.6% at 322p a therm.

The price of power, which reached a record £675 a megawatt-hour on the Epex Spot SE exchange this week, fell to £353 in a volatile market. Power prices for delivery on Thursday fell nearly 7% in Germany and about 5% in France.

Power prices had soared as the freezing weather forced Britons to increase their heating use, pushing up demand for energy despite high bills.

The cold weather combined with a period of low wind, reducing the production of Britain’s windfarms to close to zero. Emergency power units at Drax in North Yorkshire were put on standby on Monday but ultimately not used.

Live data from ESOon Wednesday showed wind accounting for 27% of electricity generation, behind gas with 47% and ahead of nuclear at 13%.

Separately, French nuclear output has ramped up in recent days and is expected to improve through the week as four more nuclear reactors, which were out of action for maintenance, are due to return.

There have been concerns over power shortages this winter in the UK and Europe amid the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, the improving weather and resilience of the system so far has brought some encouragement.

Analysts at RBC investment bank said: “Despite this grim scenario for the week, we could see that the electricity system is coping relatively well with the situation, albeit power prices suffered a significant increase.

“Despite the increase in gas demand on cold weather and low wind resource, we could see how gas storage levels are doing better even this week on any single day v the same day last year.”

The rise in prices will have increased the cost of the government’s energy price guarantee scheme, which aims to cushion the blow of rising wholesale costs.

The energy regulator is pushing for a cap on how much power stations can charge National Grid for backup electricity. Ofgem wants to tighten rules to prevent “excessive” profits and intends to publish proposals early next year, the Daily Telegraph reports.

The Grid spent more than £27m paying power stations to crank up supplies at short notice on Monday.