No need to go to the races: Devon’s mass vaccine centres open next week

East Devon has one of the oldest populations in the Country (if not the oldest) so must pose one of the country’s biggest vaccination challenges.

9% of the population is over 80, 6% of the population is aged 75 – 79 and 8% are in the 70 – 74 bracket. In total 23% are over 70. (Comparable figures for Inner London are 2.5%, 1.7% and 2.4% – total 6.6%).

So Owl is pleased to see that Exeter is now getting a mass vaccination centre which will be a lot easier for East Devon residents to get to than Taunton racecourse.

The NHS has confirmed that two mass vaccine centres will be opening in Devon next week.

Anita Merritt

Event venue Westpoint in Exeter, and The Mayflower Grandstand at Plymouth Argyle Football Club’s Home Park Stadium will be welcoming their first booked appointments to people aged 80 and above from next Tuesday, January 26.

The two new large-scale vaccination centres will enable thousands more vaccinations to be given every week in Devon, and will provide local people have a wider choice of options when they receive their invitation for an appointment.

Anyone who cannot or does not want to travel to one of the sites can be vaccinated by their local GP service.

Westpoint will be managed by the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust (RD&E). The site was established by the NHS with support from a team of volunteers from Network Rail, whose volunteers also pitched in to help set up the NHS Nightingale Hospital in Exeter last year.

Suzanne Tracey, chief executive of the RD&E and Northern Devon Healthcare Trust said: “If you are invited to attend an appointment here, I can reassure you that measures are in place to keep everyone safe, and our brilliant staff and volunteers will look after you while you’re with us.”

Steve Brown, director of Public Health at Devon County Council, added: “We’re very proud to be part of this key project. Vaccination is the way of out lockdown and the pandemic and the new centre in Exeter will give us more capacity to vaccinate local people in the weeks and months to come.”

The Home Park site will be managed by University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust,which runs the city’s Derriford Hospital. Plymouth Argyle FC has been supporting the NHS since the beginning of the pandemic, with the Mayflower Grandstand temporarily hosting health services such as phlebotomy and antenatal services to relieve pressure on Derriford Hospital.

A reminder has been issued that there is no need to contact the NHS for a vaccination as people will be invited when it is their turn and people cannot get vaccinated by just turning up.

Appointments, which are offered by letter via a nationally-run booking system, are staggered to allow for social distancing and people are urged not to turn up early to avoid queues.

In northern Devon, vaccinations are taking place at GP-led centres in Barnstaple and Holsworthy, as well as North Devon District Hospital.

The site at Barnstaple Leisure Centre, which is capable of vaccinating a similar number of people to the large-scale vaccination centres, can be scaled up as further supplies come in, with around 8,000 vaccinations expected over the next week.

Two pharmacy sites will also begin delivering vaccinations to northern Devon residents in the coming days.

The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, which is easier to transport and store, is also enabling GPs to run day clinics at selected individual practice sites in northern Devon and across the county, to bring vaccination facilities closer to people in places where the location of the local vaccination centre makes it difficult for people to access it.

North Devon District Hospital is scaling up clinics to vaccinate frontline health and social care workers from across the northern Devon area, with around 7,000 vaccinations expected over the next few weeks.

France passes ‘sensory heritage’ law after plight of Maurice the noisy rooster

From crowing roosters to the whiff of barnyard animals, the “sensory heritage” of France’s countryside will now be protected by law from attempts to stifle the everyday aspects of rural life from newcomers looking for peace and quiet. 

French senators on Thursday gave final approval to a law proposed in the wake of several high-profile conflicts by village residents and vacationers, or recent arrivals derided as “neo-rurals”.

A rowdy rooster named Maurice, in particular, made headlines in 2019 after a court in western France rejected a bid to have him silenced by neighbours who had purchased a holiday home nearby.

“Living in the countryside implies accepting some nuisances,” Joël Giraud, the government’s minister in charge of rural life, told lawmakers.

Cow bells (and cow droppings), grasshopper chirps and noisy early-morning tractors are also now considered part of France’s natural heritage that will be codified in its environmental legislation.

“It sends a strong message,” said Pierre-Antoine Lévi, the senator who acted as rapporteur for the bill. “It can act as a useful tool for local officials as they carry out their educational and mediation duties.”

The law is emblematic of growing tensions in the countryside between longtime residents and outsiders whose bucolic expectations often clash with everyday realities.

Corinne Fesseau and her rooster Maurice became the image of the fight when she was brought to court by pensioners next door over the bird’s shrill wake-up calls.

Critics saw the lawsuit as part of a broader threat to France’s hallowed rural heritage by outsiders and city dwellers unable or unwilling to understand the realities of country life.

Thousands of people signed a “Save Maurice” petition, and a judge eventually upheld the cock-a-doodle-doos.

In another case from 2019, a woman in the duck-breeding heartland of the Landes region was brought to court by a newcomer neighbour fed up with the babbling of the ducks and geese in her back garden.

A court in south-west France also threw out that case.

Covid-19: Dorset NHS trust ‘on a knife-edge’ transfers patients to Devon

A fully-stretched NHS trust is starting to transfer patients with Covid-19 to one of the government’s emergency Nightingale Hospitals.

BBC News 

University Hospitals Dorset (UHD) NHS Trust said its hospitals in Bournemouth and Poole were “absolutely full” and “on a knife-edge”.

The number of patients has risen from “more than 350” to “about 380” in the past week, it said.

Up to 10 patients are due to be moved to the Nightingale Hospital in Exeter.

The move will allow the Dorset hospitals to continue accepting emergency admissions.

UHD medical director Tristan Richardson said: “If we can make that happen two or three times in the next fortnight, I think that will just about see us through but it’s still very much on a knife-edge.

“We are absolutely full of Covid patients on both sites.”

Senior nursing sister Ann Brown said: “We knew it was going to be much worse than previous winters, however I still wasn’t expecting it to be quite this bad.”

BBC South health correspondent Alastair Fee, who interviewed staff at the hospital on Wednesday evening, said he saw the pressure building as ambulances delivered more patients with Covid-19.

Exeter Nightingale Hospital

image captionNightingale Hospital Exeter can cater for up to 116 Covid patients

The NHS trust remains on a level four Operational Pressures (OPEL) alert, denoting potential for patient care to be compromised.

Dr Richardson said: “Speaking to families on the phone when you’ve said, ‘That family gathering you had at Christmas has ended up with your grandparent catching Covid and they are sadly going to die in the next 24 hours’, and that penny drops, is sad, so sad.”

Nightingale Hospital Exeter is a specialist facility for up to 116 patients with Covid-19 from the south west of England.

It received its first patients in November from the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust.

In a statement, UHD said: “This joined up regional support will help us to carry on accepting new emergency admissions and providing the best possible care for our remaining patients.”

Free fast broadband offered in UK to support home schooling

Thousands of families struggling with home learning are being offered free high-speed broadband following a partnership between internet provider Hyperoptic and dozens of local authorities across the UK.

Mark Sweney 

Families in 37 local authority areas, from Tower Hamlets in London to Newcastle and Leeds that are struggling with remote learning due to poor or no internet will be offered the chance to have a high speed connection installed with no usage charges until the end of the summer term. At that point there is no obligation to stick with the service. Telecoms regulator Ofcom has estimated that more than 880,000 children live in a household with internet access only via mobile phone.

Broadband and mobile companies have answered calls to do more to support students struggling with connectivity during lockdown. The UK’s biggest telecoms companies including BT, which also owns mobile company EE, Vodafone, Sky, Virgin Media, Sky, O2 and Three have all launched initiatives offering free data and internet packages to help children access online learning tools.

Liam McAvoy, senior director of business development at Hyperoptic, said: “Every child deserves to be able to virtually learn and harness the opportunities that are enabled by connectivity. We hope others in the industry join us in providing free connectivity to families that need most.”

The company said that users of the package could expect a consistent service that does not fluctuate depending on what time of day it is or how many people or devices in the house are connected, and that it comes with unlimited data.

Hyperoptic said it hoped to connect at least 2,500 families with the offer in the next month alone.

Ministers could pay £500 to everyone with Covid in England

Ministers are considering paying £500 to everyone in England who tests positive for Covid-19, in a dramatic overhaul of the self-isolation support scheme, the Guardian can reveal.

Josh Halliday

The proposed change is thought necessary because government polling found only 17% of people with symptoms are coming forward to get a test, owing to fears that a positive result could stop people from working.

The universal payment is the “preferred position” of Matt Hancock’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and would cost up to £453m a week, 12 times the cost of the current system, according to an official policy paper seen by the Guardian.

The 16-page document, dated 19 January and marked “Official Sensitive”, also proposes that police should be given access to health data for the first time to crack down on quarantine breaches.

Another recommendation is ending the £500 one-off payments to close contacts of infected people and instead rolling out nationwide self-testing, so that those who test negative can return to work.

The revamped self-isolation support scheme was drawn up by Hancock’s team to be considered by the government’s coronavirus operations committee, chaired by Michael Gove, which is expected to meet on Friday.

The UK recorded another 1,290 deaths on Thursday and 37,892 new positive cases, and there is uncertainty about whether the current restrictions will do enough to bring the pandemic under control. Boris Johnson pointedly refused to be drawn on when lockdown measures could be lifted, raising fears that the regime may not ease for months.

Financial support for people who need to self-isolate is critical to the government’s coronavirus strategy because the disease will continue to spread unless infectious people and their close contacts go into quarantine for 10 days.

However, there have been concerns that the scheme unveiled by the prime minister four months ago is excluding many people who cannot afford to self-isolate, meaning they are torn between losing earnings or spreading the disease.

The overhaul has been prompted by Cabinet Office polling indicating that only 17% of people with symptoms are coming forward for testing, according to the policy paper. It said: “Wanting to avoid self-isolation is now the single biggest reported barrier to requesting a test.”

A separate survey carried out for the DHSC, discussed in the report, found that only one in four people reported compliance with self-isolation, with 15% going to work as normal.

At present only those on a low income who cannot work from home and receive one of seven means-tested benefits are eligible for the £500 test-and-trace support payment (TTSP), excluding many small business owners, sole traders, self-employed workers and parents whose children have been told to self-isolate. Councils are given an additional pot of “discretionary” funding, but figures released by Labour this week showed that three-quarters of applicants were being rejected.

An official review of the scheme has concluded that it excludes too many people, has created a “postcode lottery” around England, and that only one in four of those eligible have received financial support – about 50,000 people in total – because the application process is too complex.

It proposes four options to expand the programme. The most generous is paying £500 to anyone who tests positive. The report says: “Anyone who tested positive for Covid-19, irrespective of their age, employment status or ability to work from home, would be eligible for TTSP. This would be straightforward for local authorities to administer, though it would lead to significantly greater volumes of applications than under the current scheme.”

Describing the universal payment as “the preferred DHSC position,” officials estimate it would cost up to £453m a week if there were 60,000 cases a day – 12 times the current cost of £36.5m a week. It would cost £340m a week if there were 45,000 infections a day, as at present.

A second option is paying the lump sum to those who test positive and cannot work from home, costing up to £244m a week. The third option is paying those earning less than £26,495 a year or on means-tested benefits, at a cost of £122m a week. The fourth proposal is keeping the current system but “significantly” expanding the discretionary funding to councils.

The policy paper says “a more radical approach” would be paying people their usual earnings instead of a £500 lump sump, but it would be difficult to assess the earnings of those on zero-hours contracts, agency workers and the self-employed and therefore that option is not recommended.

The proposal to end £500 payments to the close contacts of infected people and instead introduce regular nationwide at-home lateral flow testing would save the government £79m a week if cases were at 60,000 a day, according to the report. However, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has cautioned against using self-tests as a “green light” to avoid self-isolation. Any nationwide scheme would need to be clinically approved.

Another proposed change likely to be controversial is to give individuals’ health data to the police to prove that someone has tested positive for Covid-19, making it easier for them to be prosecuted.

In October it emerged that police could request information about whether someone was supposed to be self-isolating, but “no testing data or health data”. The official paper says the current enforcement approach is “difficult to implement” and that police should be given health data to distinguish between people who have tested positive and those required to self-isolate because they are a contact.

It adds: “Contrary to previous assurances given to the public, this will mean sharing health data (ie an indication of who has tested positive for Covid-19) with the police if someone is reported to have breached their legal duty, but this is considered a necessary and proportionate measure – and data-sharing agreements will provide that the information is not used for any other purposes.”

A DHSC spokesperson said they would not comment on leaks, but said: “We are in one of the toughest moments of this pandemic and it is incumbent on all of us to help protect the NHS by staying at home and following the rules.

“All local authorities costs for administering the test-and-trace support payment scheme are covered by the government, and each authority is empowered to make discretionary payments outside of the scheme. Fifty million pounds was invested when the scheme launched, and we are providing a further £20m to help support people on low incomes who need to self-isolate.

“We also recognise the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health and wellbeing which is why mental health services have remained open throughout the pandemic.”

Password data breach ‘a wake-up call’ and example of ‘poor practice’

A significant password data breach within East Devon District Council has been slammed as a ‘wake-up call’ and an example of ‘poor practice’.

Daniel Clark 

Passwords used by some of the 60 strong East Devon District Council were made available to other councillors as a result of the data breach that was uncovered at the start of November 2020.

Swift action was taken to rectify the breach, with councillors having their passwords reset, and passwords were not visible to the public at any stage.

The password information pertained to Office 365 users and also the Airwatch software the council uses, and it is understood that Strata, East Devon District Council’s IT provider, at some stage had taken the decision to add the both Airwatch and Outlook 365 passwords to the individual councillor profiles, and as such, the data breach meant passwords were available to other members.

Details confirming East Devon’s use of both the Airwatch and Office 365 platforms were publicly available in documents in the council’s website prior to the data breach occurring.

East Devon District Council’s cabinet, when they met on Wednesday night to consider the breach, heard that because some Members were able to see passwords, it represented a technical data protection breach and that it was clearly poor practice not to protect sensitive information from those not entitled to see it.

Strata had also confirmed categorically that there was no public visibility to the password information and that the likelihood of councillor passwords and emails being compromised by other councillors appears very low.

But councillors said the issue was a ‘wake-up call’ and that the inability for councillors to set their own passwords had been raised back in May 2019 but had not been actioned, with them uncomfortable that all passwords had been stored on a spreadsheet, albeit one that had only very limited access and that the council’s monitoring officer, Henry Gordon Lennox, when compiling the report found he was unable to access.

Cllr Paul Millar, who discovered the breach, said that it was a very sad situation and that he was not being a ‘captain hindsight’ about his concerns.

He said: “As soon as I became a councillor and I received the councillor iPad I made representations to Strata that I was uncomfortable that I wasn’t able to set or amend or change the password at the time, and I was uncomfortable that others had my password, and my fears were justified.

“There was a spreadsheet in Blackdown House with the passwords of all members on it. I discovered the breach, I am disappointed that despite members raising the concerns and being able to set your own password is standard practice, I was disappointed that my and others concerns were not acted on before the breach occurred.”

Asked to explain how he discovered the data breach, Cllr Millar said that he was on his android phone on Office 365 in his emails and he discovered another councillor’s password was visible on their profile.

He said that he checked his own profile and his password was visible, and thought that it could be the same for others, and immediately reported the issue to Strata.

Cllr Millar added: “My worry remains that as councillors we have extremely sensitive data in the email accounts and as much as it was only other councillors who could see the information, we are going through nasty political times in the council, and had another councillor seen the password, they may have hacked into their emails.

“Lessons have been learnt and we need to implement the changes needed to ensure this never happens again and have that multi-faceted verification.”

Cllr Fabian King said that the line in the report that ‘the risk appeared very low’ was ‘a fairly gentle remark’ but was ‘a wake-up call’.

He added: “The report concentrates on fixing the breach which is commendable and Strata provides a very good service all round, but this is a wake-up call. Any invitation to have a ‘look over the wall’ could be very tempting and given the opportunity, people may be tempted to see what is going on.

“We need to acknowledge that over a length of time, internal measures of this sort are rather incestuous, and I do believe that we need to give room for an independent audit.”

Laurence Whitlock, Strata IT Director, in his report to the meeting, said: “Such incidents are treated seriously by Strata. It is clear that once notified of the disclosure, Strata reacted very quickly and professionally in mitigating the risk and identifying the root cause.

“The key critical point is that it can be confirmed that external visibility of the password information by individuals residing outside of the Strata provisioned Office365 environment would not have been possible, primarily because of the secure way in which the Strata Office365 environment has been designed, built and deployed.

“Hence, Strata can confirm categorically that there was no public visibility to the password information. In addition, the likelihood of Councillor passwords and emails being compromised by other Councillors appears very low and any misuse of the password information would have been in contravention of the Computer Misuse Act 1990.”

He added: “There is no evidence to suggest that there has been any unauthorised or malicious use of passwords during the log period of August 11, 2020 until November 13, 2020. In all likelihood, had there been any unauthorised activity prior to the log period, this would have continued during the log period itself.

“Based on Strata’s investigation coupled with Strata’s determination of the likely timeframe when the passwords actually became visible, it is Strata’s professional judgement that in reality the likelihood of the passwords having been compromised by other Councillors at any time is very low.

“Strata reported the incident to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO), who have reviewed the case and due to the speed of the Strata response and the controls in place, the ICO have concluded no further action is necessary and the case has been closed.

“The root cause of the incident was rapidly identified by Strata and corrective measures put in to place immediately and there was no wider risk of threat to the Council’s IT systems.”

Key lessons learned and recommendations that have been identified as result of this incident, the cabinet heard, was that councillors need to be provided with the ability to manage their own passwords, irrespective of how complex the delivery of such functionality is.

The report said: “Whilst this may make the support of councillor devices and applications more difficult, a solution to this issue needs to be identified, procured and implemented.”

Other lessons included that Strata security practices need to be reviewed regularly to ensure that there are no weaknesses in access controls, the security of data and in particular passwords is all staff’s responsibility and any evidence of poor practice should be reported immediately, but that the issue of others being able to see passwords in a list and the use of similar passwords is clearly poor practice and steps, such as appropriate training and reminders to staff, will be undertaken to seek to avoid a repeat event.

The meeting that it would not be until around April before the processes were changed so that councillors would have the ability to set and reset their own passwords.

Cllr John Loudoun, in recommending that the cabinet note the report, also called for the Devon Audit Partnership to carry out an audit of Strata’s process, and for the South West Audit Partnership to take a look at East Devon’s data processes.

He said: “That would go some way to reassure and to answer the question of whether or not we want further independent reassurance.”

The Information Commissioners Office, having been asked to consider the breach, decided that no further action was necessary on this occasion.

They said: “It appears that the information was exposed to a limited number of people, and technical logs have shown that there has been no incorrect access to the data. This could reduce the risk to the data subjects.

“The personal data breach is not likely to result in a high risk to the data subjects and it appears you have the appropriate technical security measures in place to protect the personal data you process.

“After discovering the incident, steps have been taken to remove the information and to synchronise the system to contain the breach, and additional steps have been taken to change passwords to prevent any unauthorised access.

“The root cause of the incident was process based and you have changed your process for recording information to prevent another incident of this nature and it is noted that all sensitive data has been removed, which could reduce the risk of this information being disclosed.”

Covid cases may have stopped falling, major English survey shows

Cases of coronavirus may no longer be falling across England, according to a major survey that raises concerns over whether lockdown measures can contain the new variant, as the UK reported a record daily number of deaths.

[Owl has been keeping records of the Zoe/King’s College symptom tracker app. These data  indicate reported symptom rates in East Devon falling from the November lockdown until the Christmas break. They have then been rising and only appear to have levelled off in the past few days. Reported symptom rates are still running at levels last seen at the end of November. Owl thinks we still need to be very cautious]

Ian Sample

Boris Johnson described the 1,820 deaths reported on Wednesday as “appalling”, as he warned: “There will be more to come.”

Scientists at Imperial College London analysed swab tests from more than 142,000 people across England between 6 and 15 January which suggested that new infections may have fallen recently but were now stable, and perhaps even growing slightly, with only south-west England showing clear evidence of a decline.

Imperial’s React-1 infection survey found 1.58% of people tested had the virus, a rise of 74% compared with the previous survey conducted between 25 November and 3 December.

Infections were highest among 18 to 24-year-olds, at 2.51%, with rates more than doubling among the most vulnerable over-65s to 0.94% in the latest survey.

The scientists estimate the R value – the average number of people an infected person infects – to be 1.04 for England. The epidemic grows when R is above 1 and shrinks when it falls below 1.

But the survey reveals regional variations, with cases potentially having plateaued in London and the east of England, falling in the south-west, where the R is estimated to be 0.37, and rising in Yorkshire and the east Midlands.

Levels of the virus were highest in London, with 2.8% of those in the survey testing positive, and lowest in the south-west, with prevalence of 0.53%.

Reacting to the new record death toll, the prime minister said the more transmissible variant discovered late last year was now in virtually all parts of the UK.

“It looks as though the rates of infection in the country overall may now be peaking or flattening but they’re not flattening very fast and it’s clear that we must keep a grip on this. We must maintain discipline, formation, keep observing the lockdown,” he said.

The Imperial scientists warned that pressure on the NHS showed no sign of letting up.

“The NHS is very resilient and all sorts of contingency measures are being brought in, but we do need to get the prevalence rates down because if we don’t then we will see the same pressure from prevalence to hospital admissions to [intensive care] admissions and sadly to deaths,” said Paul Elliott, professor of epidemiology and public health medicine at Imperial.

The data appears to contradict the falling trend in new daily reported cases at the start of this week, but Elliott believes the Imperial survey may be ahead of official figures, not least because the survey tests people routinely rather than picking up infections after people have developed symptoms and gone through the process of getting a test.

“We do think we are ahead of the [community testing] pillar 2 data and it may be that in coming days there will be a flattening off, but clearly we need to keep a watching brief,” Elliott said.

At a press briefing on the report, Steven Riley, professor of infectious disease dynamics at Imperial, highlighted Facebook data showing a fall in mobility immediately after Christmas and a rise at the start of the new year, which might help to explain a fall in cases followed by a levelling off.

But the new variant, named B117, which emerged in the south-east and is more transmissible, is also thought to be driving more infections.

“The fact that we’re in lockdown and it’s a stronger lockdown than lockdown two [in November], but R is above 1, we’d attribute some of that to transmission of the variant strain,” Riley said.

The survey came as the UK recorded a sharp rise in coronavirus infections, reaching 38,905 on Wednesday, after continued falls in cases earlier in the week. The latest figures bring the total number of cases in the UK to 3,505,754.

Government data up to 19 January shows that of the 5,070,365 vaccinations that have been given in the UK so far, 4,609,740 were first doses – a rise of 343,163 on the previous day’s figures. Second doses accounted for 460,625, an increase of 3,759 on figures released the previous day.

The seven-day rolling average of first doses given in the UK is now 281,490. Based on the latest figures, an average of 399,625 first doses of vaccine would be needed each day in order to meet the government’s target of 15m first doses by 15 February.

Riley said that while the vaccine rollout was “quite rightly” focused on those most at risk, they were not the most likely to spread the virus.

He said it would take “a large number of weeks or possibly months” for the vaccine to have an impact on the spread of the virus and bring new cases down.

Johnson’s ‘levelling up’ council criticised as most members based in London

A business council set up by Boris Johnson to rebuild the UK after Covid has been criticised for being too London-centric and treating most of the country with “contempt” after it emerged that all but five council members are based in or near the English capital.

Helen Pidd

Just one of the 30 Build Back Better Council members is based in the north of England, two are in the Midlands, one in Cambridge and one in Scotland. None work for firms headquartered in Wales or Northern Ireland. Twenty-two are in London and three in commuter towns within 25 miles of the capital.

Announcing the council on Monday, Johnson said it would “level up opportunity for people and businesses across the UK”. He promised it would “provide an important forum for frank feedback on our recovery plans”.

But the geographic makeup of the council was criticised for drawing almost exclusively from firms based in London or the commuter belt of the capital.

Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle city council, said: “So much for levelling up. We’re the only city with an A rating for our CDP assessment (demonstrating our ambition and plan for net zero by 2030), we’ve created thousands of jobs in the city over the last decade, we’ve won national praise for our work on tackling homelessness, we’ve broken all our housebuilding targets and we’re the first city to have all care home residents vaccinated against Covid. But the government doesn’t think they have anything to learn from us.”

Frank McKenna from UnitedCity, a pressure group set up to help businesses in Greater Manchester recover from the pandemic, said: “The one thing the government should have learnt from the last nine months, surely, is that we can’t have a one-size-fits-all-approach to rebuilding our economy.”

McKenna, who also heads Downtown in Business, which brings together firms in the north of England and the West Midlands, said it wasn’t too late to broaden the council’s membership. “Even at this stage I would say to Boris Johnson and his colleagues: this just looks daft … At worst it looks like the north of England has been forgotten and is being treated with contempt again.”

Henri Murison, the director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership thinktank, said: “A large part of the British business community, including a number of its most significant firms, is here – not least most of its major supermarkets. It is vital that discussions about key business priorities reflect that.”

A government spokesperson defended the appointments, saying: “The Build Back Better Council members have significant operations across the UK, employing tens of thousands of people in factories, R&D campuses, shops and forecourts across the Midlands and the north of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“Council members were selected because of their long-term commitment to the UK economy and their combined capability to increase business investment, get the economy moving and create jobs across the entire country.”

The council members include senior executives from companies including Google, Heathrow Airport, British Airways and Unilever. Outside London and the commuter belt there is the chief executive of Siemens, based in Manchester; the chief executives of Jaguar Land Rover and Severn Trent, both in Coventry; Sir Ian Wood of the engineering consultancy Wood in Aberdeen, and Poppy Gustafsson from the cyber-security firm Darktrace in Cambridge. The three companies within 25 miles of the capital are in Slough, Brentwood in Middlesex and Welwyn Garden City.

A new local plan for East Devon – Issues and Options report consultation

[Text of e-mail from EDDC on general circulation forwarded by a correspondent]

Dear Sir/Madam

A new local plan for East Devon – Issues and Options report consultation

I am delighted to advise that we are producing a new local plan for East Devon.  To start things off we have produced an Issues and Options consultation report.  This report highlights some of the major planning issues and challenges that we see for East Devon over the years ahead and some of the potential responses.  We would welcome your views on the matters we raise or any additional considerations.

The Issues and options report can be viewed and we have also produced an online questionnaire that we would encourage you to fill out.  We need to receive any comments by 12:00 noon on Monday 15 March 2021.

Responses received to the consultation, along with ongoing plan making work, will be used to help us produce a draft version of the local plan that we hope will go out for consultation in early 2022.

It is envisaged that a new local plan will guide future development and contain the full range of planning policies needed for the Council to undertake its development management functions and determine planning applications.   This consultation is undertaken in respect of the requirements of ‘Regulation 18’ of ‘The Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012’

Housing and Employment Land Availability Assessment – Call for Sites

To support local plan production we are undertaking a call for sites as part of a new Housing and Employment Land Availability Assessment (HELAA).  If you wish to promote any sites or areas of land in East Devon, for development, please visit our HELAA web page

Submission need to be received by 12:00 noon on Monday 15 March 2021

Sustainability Appraisal Scoping report

Local Plan production needs to be accompanied by sustainability appraisal.  We have produced a draft scoping report and would welcome any comments, again by 12:00 noon on Monday 15 March 2021.  Please see our sustainability appraisal web page for more details.

Yours faithfully

Matt Dickins

Planning Policy Manager


Legal challenge on Covid procurement secrecy with court hearing scheduled for Wednesday 3 February

Jon Danzig 

The UK now has the highest COVID-19 death rate of anywhere in the world, writes Jolyon Maugham, QC, Director of the Good Law Project.

As we try and make sense of how we got our response so wretchedly wrong, just how significant will Government’s abandonment of transparency and proper process prove to be?

The purpose of procurement law is to ensure the public interest is served and that contracts go to those most able to deliver.

It protects us by requiring Government to undertake open and competitive tendering. This is particularly important at times of crisis when stakes are high.

Yet Government’s response to this pandemic has been characterised by secrecy.

There are billions of pounds of public health contracts we know nothing about – we don’t know who has made the decision to spend, or with what safeguards, or why such strange counterparties were chosen.

It is almost impossible for anyone to accurately assess where we’ve gone wrong because so many parts of the story are missing.

And Government is being deliberately misleading about what it has and hasn’t complied with.

On 17 December, Cabinet Office Minister, Julia Lopez, responded to a question in Parliament stating that all PPE contracts had now been published.


That is simply not true.

Our litigation has revealed Government is refusing to publish whole categories of contracts, including those of significant agencies like Public Health England and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.


Executive agencies have no separate legal status – there is no lawful reason to exclude these.

Further, the NAO in its second report on pandemic procurement, set out that £12.5 billion had been spent on PPE between February and July 2020, including through existing contracts with Supply Chain Coordination Limited (SCCL), which manages the NHS supply chain.


However, data provided to us by Tussell on 18 December showed that only £8 billion of PPE contract awards made during that same period had been published.

Procurement through existing contracts is still the subject of an obligation to publish. Yet Government has published no details of call-off contracts with SCCL relating to PPE – over £4 billion of contracts are hidden.

These breaches matter.

▪ They matter because they normalise non-compliance with the law.

▪ They matter because they erode public trust that taxpayers’ money is being spent wisely, and that it will not just be handed to politically connected individuals, without adequate safeguards.

▪ But most importantly they matter because without a full and honest picture of what is happening, how can we begin to turn our fatally flawed response around?

We have a Government who no longer wants to account to the people on what it does – on why we have the worst death rate in the world, on why so many families are grieving.

But they cannot evade scrutiny in the courts. Our hearing is scheduled for 3rd February.

I am publishing my final Witness Statement in full.


Thank you.

Jon Danzig