Genuinely good news for East Devon

East Devon has been successful in securing a new £1.8 million pound Investment Plan.

“The primary goal of the Investment Plan is to support the transition to a net zero economy, build pride in towns and villages, support business development and improve opportunities for local people to grow their skills.”

Adam Manning

The county will receive £1,796,363 in funding over three years from government, designed to replace European Union structural funds.

Following assessment of East Devon District Council’s Investment Plan for the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has conditionally approved almost £1.8m funding for East Devon over the next three years.

The primary goal of the Investment Plan is to support the transition to a net zero economy, build pride in towns and villages, support business development and improve opportunities for local people to grow their skills.

Funding for year one (2022/23) is set at £218,005, funding for year two (2023/24) is set at £436,011 and funding for year three (2024/25) is expected to be £1,142,347. These funds are conditional on complying with the terms and conditions of the funding.

Cllr Paul Hayward, East Devon District Council’s portfolio holder for economy and assets, said: “This is fantastic news for East Devon! We’re delighted that our plan has been approved. It means we can progress our aims to transition to a net zero economy, improve skills to create a vibrant workforce and support culture and leisure.

“We had expected confirmation of the funds in October. This means we will need to work very quickly to allocate year 1 funding before 31st March 2023.

“We will be calling for grant applications from East Devon businesses for a new round of the Innovation and Resilience Fund and a new Culture, Leisure and Tourism Fund. Full details of the criteria for grants will be made available as soon as possible. In the meantime, interested businesses should sign up for the business newsletter to receive the latest information.”

The East Devon Investment Plan proposes funding for twelve interventions:Action on Poverty Fund, Active Travel Fund (starts 2024), Business Support Programme, Disability Employment Support Programme (starts 2024, East Devon Council for Voluntary Service, East Devon Culture Programme, East Devon Leisure Programme, East Devon Towns Feasibility Work, NEET Employment Support Programme (starts 2024), Net Zero Innovation Fund (delivered through the Innovation and Resilience Fund two), Retrofit Programme (starts 2024), Sustainable Tourism Fund (partly delivered through the Culture, Leisure and Tourism Fund)

Snort of the day

Traces of a suspected class A drug were found at a government grace-and-favour home after parties attended by political allies of Liz Truss, the Guardian has been told.

Anna Isaac 

The white powder was discovered at the Chevening estate last summer in the days before Truss won the Tory leadership contest and became prime minister, according to sources.

A member of staff claimed they tested the powder using a swab which changes colour when it comes into contact with cocaine, and it indicated the drug was present.

Possession of cocaine is a criminal offence which can lead to imprisonment for up to seven years, or an unlimited fine.

In July, the government launched a new crackdown on casual drug users, saying their passports could be confiscated.

Separate sources have described finding similar deposits in the offices at No 10 Downing Street after two lockdown parties held when Boris Johnson was prime minister.

Staff working at Chevening claim on two occasions they found traces of white powder on a side-table in a games room with a snooker table, after nights where Truss was known to have entertained guests at the Kent country house, a retreat for foreign secretaries.

Truss, then foreign secretary, hosted a gathering at the 17th-century Grade I-listed home during the weekend of 19-21 August as her leadership campaign was in full swing. Another gathering took place during the weekend of 2-4 September. A range of political allies were in attendance for both weekends.

Chevening is a grace-and-favour home set in 3,000 acres. Use of the 115-room mansion is traditionally granted to the foreign secretary, and its upkeep is funded by a trust established by an act of parliament.

An insider said cocaine was widely used across Whitehall and the parliamentary estate, and claimed that some of Truss’s political allies used it.

There is no suggestion that Truss or Johnson themselves used the drug or that they would have been aware if drugs were used or present. The Guardian has not been told who was responsible for the alleged deposits of white powder.

Truss lasted just 45 days as prime minister. The mini-budget presented by her then chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, in late September sent UK government bond markets into freefall and forced the Bank of England to spend billions of pounds buying government debt to protect market stability.

Separately, sources who worked in No 10 during Johnson’s tenure claimed white powder residue was found after two parties held at the office complex despite Covid-19 restrictions.

Johnson is understood not to have been at either party.

White powder residue was found the morning after a party at No 10 on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral on 17 April 2021, sources said.

The Guardian has been told that cleaning staff found deposits of white powder in bathrooms and on a table in No 10 offices. Small plastic bags were said to have been discovered near the table on the floor next to the bin, together with tissues stained with spots of blood, and vomit.

Sources also said there was evidence of a smudged line of powder and a discarded Boots Advantage card on the same table. It is not known who the card belonged to.

Revelations about that party, held just hours before the Queen had to mourn alone at her husband’s funeral because of social distancing rules, caused outrage. They included reports that a suitcase of wine was wheeled to Downing Street and that a garden swing for the prime minister’s son was broken.

Traces of white powder and small plastic bags were also found on 19 December 2020, the morning after a Christmas party, in the bathrooms at No 10’s office complex, according to sources.

Staff suspected the material was likely to be traces of drugs as it was found amid wider evidence of partying including bottles, empty cans, and food wrappers.

A separate source with knowledge of the parties claimed they were aware of drug-taking at both events.

A senior civil servant, Sue Gray, was tasked with producing a report into lockdown-busting parties in No 10 and across Whitehall. There was no mention of drug-taking in her report.

The Guardian’s revelations come after evidence of cocaine use in toilets next to Johnson’s then parliamentary office and several other locations across the parliamentary estate was reported last year.

Johnson’s government put forward a drugs strategy that proposed that middle-class drug users could have their passports and driving licences confiscated, in order to “interfere” with their lives.

During her brief tenure as prime minister, Truss’s spokesperson said that “cracking down on illegal drugs” was a priority.

The Guardian put a series of questions to Truss about the claims regarding Chevening. She declined to comment in detail.

A spokesperson for her said in a one-line statement: “This is categorically untrue.”

After publication, her spokesperson added: “If there were evidence that this alleged activity had occurred during her use of Chevening, Ms Truss would have expected to have been informed and for the relevant authorities to have properly investigated the matter. As it is, the Guardian has produced no evidence to support these spurious claims.”

The Foreign Office declined to comment on the allegations about activities at Chevening.

A spokesperson for Boris Johnson said: “Boris Johnson is surprised by these allegations since he has not previously been made aware of any suggestions of drug use in 10 Downing Street and as far as he is aware no such claims were made to Sue Gray or to any other investigators.

“It was a feature of Mr Johnson’s premiership that he strongly campaigned against drug use, especially middle-class drug use. His government made huge investments in tougher policing to help roll up county lines drugs gangs, which cause so much misery. He repeatedly called for harsher punishments for the use and distribution of class A drugs.”

A spokesperson for No 10 said: “The Guardian has provided no evidence to support these claims. If there were substantive claims, we would expect these to be reported to the police.

“There was an independent investigation into the nature of the gatherings under a previous administration – and its findings were published. That information was also handed to the Metropolitan Police Service who conducted their own investigation at the time.”

Hospitals told to free up beds for ambulance strike

Who worked so hard to reduce our local “Community” Hospitals? -Owl  (Extract)

In a letter addressed to hospital bosses, NHS chiefs in England have called for patients who complete emergency medical care to be moved out of emergency departments.

This may involve the creation of “observation areas” and additional beds elsewhere in the hospital, Sir David Sloman, NHS England’s chief operating officer, wrote in the letter co-signed by national medical director for England Professor Sir Stephen Powis and chief nursing officer for England Dame Ruth May.

The aim is to free up beds to make it easier to move people through A&E and allow paramedics to get more quickly back on the road.

Some outpatient appointments could also be cut back to allow senior medical staff to be redeployed to emergency departments. But NHS chiefs say “every effort” should be made to maintain urgent cancer diagnostics or cancer treatment, with rescheduling to be considered as a last resort.

Measures should be put in place to ensure that patients arriving at hospitals in ambulances are handed over to A&E in less than 15 minutes, they said.

Ambulance handover delays in England have hit a new high, according to recent NHS data. Last week, one in six patients waited for more than an hour to be passed on to A&E teams.

And NHS Providers’ interim chief executive Saffron Cordery said reducing handover delays would be “incredibly difficult to implement” because of factors including staff absences and rising flu admissions.

Ms Cordery said: “We understand why ambulance staff have voted for industrial action but it’s vital that the government and unions talk urgently to find a way to prevent this and further strikes from happening.”

The letter sent to NHS trusts and Integrated Care Boards said bosses should create and co-ordinate plans on how to handle strike days by 19 December.

Tipton St John primary included in building programme – Why did it take so long?

Could we be entering a pre-election phase? 

Owl recalls some history:

The Environment Agency (EA) declared in 2015 that there is a ‘risk to life’ of the children attending the hub and that it must be rebuilt outside of the flood zone.

However, a  £3.5million bid to the Priority Schools Building Programme was rejected in the same year. (From this post)

Also Owl remembers that, in 2016, Hugo Swire banned Claire Wright from a meeting between him and the Chief Exec of the Environment Agency at the school (in Claire’s constituency) to discuss the flooding. She was excluded so as to “keep the meeting very small and focused”! (See here)

Read on with this in mind – owl

‘Local hero’ headteacher’s retirement gift – East Devon pupils to get new school free from the fear of floodwater

Becca Gliddon

Flood-hit Tipton St John Primary School, in East Devon, is to be replaced and built on a fresh site, the Department for Education has confirmed.

The new school for the village comes after successful campaigning by East Devon MP Simon Jupp, prompted by the current site repeatedly flooding, which the Environment Agency and government previously warned could pose a ‘risk to life’.

The next step will be to find a suitable location to build the new school, and set plans in motion to apply for permission to start construction work.

Colin Butler, Tipton St John Primary School executive headteacher, spoke of his ‘relief’ on hearing the news that his staff and pupils would soon be free from the dangers of floodwater.

He said the positive outcome had been the result of ‘many years’ of work, thanks to a ‘huge team effort’.

Mr Butler said: “This is wonderful news for the school and its long-term future.

“The children of Tipton and the surrounding area deserve a school building which is fit for purpose and provides a first class 21st century education.

“It is such a relief to know that staff and pupils will never need to worry for the safety of all every time there is heavy rain.

“We have been working for many years to find a deliverable solution in locating the school out of the flood-prone site.

“We are delighted that Tipton St John C of E Primary School has been included in the School Rebuilding Programme.

“It has been a huge team effort and I would like to thank everyone that has been part of the journey in securing a positive future for Tipton St John Primary School.”

Flooding next to Tipton St John Primary School. Image: Devon County Council

Previous flooding next to Tipton St John Primary School. Image: Devon County Council

Simon Jupp, MP for East Devon, said: “This is fantastic news and I’d like to thank everyone involved, particularly Devon County Council, the Diocese of Exeter, and Tipton St John’s headteacher Colin Butler, who retires this week.

“Colin is a local hero for all of his efforts to ensure children will finally get a new state-of-the-art school to replace Tipton St John Primary School.

“Pupil safety must be paramount as plans are developed to find the best site for the new school.”

Mr Jupp said he was ‘really pleased’ the Government had recognised the need to invest in education in East Devon, building a new school ‘to help meet growing local demand for school places’.

He said: “I’ll continue to work closely with the community as the plans develop.”

The current school site in Tipton St John has seen multiple incidents of flooding over the years.

The Environment Agency and Department for Education have previously warned of a risk to life.

Devon County Councillor Jessica Bailey (Independent, Otter Valley) said she had witnessed how the school had been forced to come up with an escape plan for pupils – safeguarding children as young as four from being swept away by floodwater.

She said: “It always seemed absurd to me that despite the established ‘risk to life’ from flooding, time and time again Tipton St John school was overlooked in previous funding rounds.”

She added: “I saw myself first-hand the risks of flooding in October 2021 when after heavy rain the school was surrounded by lakes of water – and water was lapping at the doors of the buildings.

“I have witnessed children as young as four and five practising their escape drill with a rope across the road to prevent children being swept away in the rising waters.”

East Devon

Cllr Jess Bailey is seen here in the flooded playground. Photo: Jess Bailey.

The new state-of-the-art school, at a site yet to be decided, will help meet growing local demand for school places.

Cllr John Hart, Devon County Council leader, said: “I am delighted with the news today that this school is finally going to be rebuilt.

“It is long overdue and I pay tribute to all those involved in this project.

“I want to give a special thank you to Simon Jupp, the Member of Parliament for East Devon, for all of his hard work.

“He has lobbied tirelessly for this project since becoming the MP for the area, it is a great result for the school, staff, children and local community.”

  • Additional reporting: Local Democracy Reporter, Rob Kershaw.