Planning applications validated by EDDC for week beginning 20 February

Squirrel stew, voter ID and Parish notices

Devoncast: former MP Neil Parish and East Devon councillor Jess Bailey are the guests

Former Tory MP Neil Parish is on this week’s Devoncast, explaining why he is considering standing for parliament again following his X-rated departure in disgrace last year, and even though he is no longer a member of the Conservative Party.

Independent councillor Jess Bailey in East Devon also joins Ollie Heptinstall, Rob Kershaw and Philip Churm. She’s concerned about the homelessness situation in the region, and the new requirement for people to show voter ID at elections.

We also consider if we should start eating grey squirrels to help reintroduce reds, with the help of Chris Wright, whose business at Otterton Mill no longer serves the dish.

And this week’s Devoncast ends with Exeter teen band Pleasant Sense, and a track from their new EP. 

Download or stream Devoncast from your preferred podcast provider, or the Radio Exe podcast page here:

Matt Hancock described as ‘headless chicken’ during pandemic

The former vaccines taskforce boss has branded Matt Hancock as “bit like a headless chicken” when he was serving as Health Secretary during the pandemic.

Brendan McFadden

Dr Clive Dix, the former chairman of the Vaccines Taskforce, also said in a an article in the Daily Telegraph that Mr Hancock the “the most difficult of all the ministers because he didn’t take time to understand anything”.

He said: “He was all over the place, a bit like a headless chicken. He often made statements saying ‘we are going to do X and we want to let the world know about it’, but we were dealing with an uncertain situation in bringing the vaccines forward.

“The manufacturing process was brand new and any process like this is fraught with problems, which we need to fix as we go along, but normally you would spend two or three years stress-testing something like this.

“Hancock was laying down timelines by saying things like ‘we will vaccinate the whole population’, and these timelines drove his behaviour.”

The rebuke by the former chairman is the latest blow to Mr Hancock after the paper published a tranche of leaked WhatsApp messages from the former health secretary, which described how he handled the pandemic.

The messages were shared with the newspaper by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who co-authored Mr Hancock’s memoir the Pandemic Diaries, which covered his time as health secretary.

The latest messages show Mr Hancock criticising vaccines tsar Dame Kate Bingham, after she had used an interview with the Financial Times to claim that vaccinating everyone in the UK was “not going to happen” and the country needed to just “vaccinate everyone at risk”.

Exchanges from October 2020 show him saying she “has view and a wacky way of expressing them & is totally unreliable”.

“She regards anything that isn’t her idea as political interference.”

Mr Hancock also complained in February 2021 about Dame Kate and Dr Dix, who took over as chairman after her six-month term came to an end, amid concerns about UK access to vaccines from the Serum Institute of India.

A spokesperson for Mr Hancock said: “As we’ve seen all week, these stories are wrong as they’re based on an entirely partial account.

“In the case of vaccines, Matt drove the goal of getting everyone vaccinated, often against resistance in the system. Ultimately he prevailed, thank goodness, and we got the first vaccine in the world, for everyone. Matt set all this out in his book.”

Dr Dix hit out at the former health secretary, accusing him of “panicking” before trying to pursue doses from India.

The UK made secured vaccine doses from the Serum Institute of India in 2021, but Dr Dix said he had serious misgivings about the plan.

“When we said the AstraZeneca vaccine had manufacturing problems, that is when Hancock panicked,” Dr Dix wrote.

“He didn’t believe us. We were working night and day to make it work and he was turning around and saying: ‘I have said the UK population will all get vaccinated.’

“But we couldn’t change the nature of the process and he didn’t get that. He thought it was like procurement. That is where his behaviour came from.

“He panicked and that led to them going to India and taking vaccines that had been meant for the developing world.”

Dr Dix, writing after the leak of the WhatsApp messages, said it is “certainly extraordinary to see how two-faced they are”.

“We were working as hard as we could and he thought he could just come in and make a bold statement to the public and tell us that we have got to do it. I don’t think he understood the process. He was a loose cannon.

“The taskforce sat in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and that is where the budget came from. We reported to Alok Sharma and then Nadhim Zahawi came in as vaccines minister. Hancock wanted to get involved and because he was secretary of state, Alok stepped aside.

“He was using the vaccine to protect his reputation. We had no ego, we were only doing this because the country needed vaccines. I had worked for nine months from 4am until midnight without any pay to do this.”

A spokesman for Dame Kate told the Telegraph: “These WhatsApps suggest that Matt Hancock was not aware of the published and agreed government vaccine procurement policy, did not read the reports by and about the work of the Vaccine Taskforce, and did not understand the difference between complex biological manufacturing and PPE procurement.”

Additional reporting by Press Association.

Local journalism’s decline: bad news for democracy 

Humans increasingly living in their own little bubble – Owl 


There are probably fewer local newspapers in Britain now than at any time since the 18th century. More people get local news and information – or misinformation – from social media. A long-term decline has accelerated: more than 320 local titles closed between 2009 and 2019 as advertising revenues fell by about 70%. The pandemic was another blow. At least as serious as these disappearances is the hollowing out of titles that have seen staffing, resources and pagination slashed, and coverage thus diminished. It is harder to quantify when court reporting is replaced by write-ups of press releases, or generic national stories topped-and-tailed with a little local colour, but it is obvious to readers.

Publications are less and less likely to be owned by proprietors with a stake in their communities, and more and more by big conglomerates prioritising the extraction of cash. More than two-thirds of UK titles are held by the three largest publishers, leaving about 400 independents. Now production costs are rocketing and businesses are cutting back further on advertising. While individual reporters and organisations still do remarkable work, they do it against the odds.

This is a global problem. Newspapers in the US are closing at the rate of two a week. Local newspapers were never perfect: they could reflect community prejudices, or cosy up to authorities and businesses they should have challenged. But the social costs of losing coverage genuinely rooted in communities is profound, and “news deserts” – without a reliable source of local news – tend to be places deprived in other ways.

Local news organisations encourage people to use businesses, go to theatres or join campaigning groups. They inform people about rights and services. They promote accountability and democratic oversight – even more important when power is devolved. But they also sustain communities in less tangible ways. They make people feel part of society. They allow them to assess what they read in the context of their own experience, and encourage them to see news as a source of practical and helpful information, rather than a matter of theoretical discussion and emotional reaction. Margaret Sullivan, the US media critic (and now a Guardian US columnist) warns that their erosion is a danger to democracy itself. It allows disinformation and emotive political rhetoric detached from fact to flourish.

There is plenty of evidence that people value local news and its many benefits. There is less evidence that they will pay enough to make it sustainable. Some hope can be found in newer independents such as the Bristol Cable, a cooperative, Manchester’s the Mill and sister titles the Post (Liverpool) and the Tribune (Sheffield). Run on a shoestring, they provide a valuable service, but to relatively niche audiences. January’s report on the sustainability of local journalism from the Commons digital, culture, media and sport select committee offered helpful suggestions. The local democracy reporting service – under which the BBC funds journalists at other regional organisations – has proved more effective than anticipated in pursuing public interest reporting, but could be expanded and given more bite.

The government’s new tech regulator, the Digital Markets Unit, should make sure that small publishers are fairly paid by the big digital platforms. And the pilot news information fund set up after the 2019 Cairncross review of the sustainability of journalism should be much expanded and made permanent. There is no single easy fix. But public funding is a crucial part of the mix.