Tiverton and Honiton MP, Richard Foord, writes to Barclays

It’s after the bank announced plans to close branches in the constituency

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

A Devon MP is to write to the boss of Barclays after the bank announced it will close its branches in Tiverton and Honiton.

They will serve customers for the final time on Friday 23 June, meaning people could have to travel to Exeter or Taunton to access do their banking with the firm.

Justifying its decision, Barclays says when it opened both branches, “visiting us in person was one of the only ways to do your banking.

“Now, as there are lots of ways to manage your money without even leaving your home, we’re seeing many customers choosing to bank using our app, and online or telephone banking.

“This has had a big impact on the number of customers coming in to see us.”

However, Richard Foord (Lib Dem) says the decision is “very disappointing,” adding: “This is a huge blow, not just for many of those living in the towns, but also those in the surrounding area who rely on being able to access these services locally.

“This is just the latest in a swathe of bank closures which risk leaving our communities as banking deserts, devoid of any local branches, and leaving people having to travel all the way to Exeter or Taunton to access vital banking facilities.

“I will be writing to Barclays’ CEO to raise these concerns and demand answers on why this is happening now, especially since Barclays is making huge profits, raking in more than £2.5 billion last year.”

In notices to its Tiverton and Honiton customers, the bank said: “We’ll be working with the local community to understand the impact of closing this branch.”

It added: “We’ll stay in your community and you’ll be able to talk to us in person. We’re finalising the details of where we’ll be based, and when, to support you with your banking, and we‘ll share the details locally once confirmed.”

Barclays’ announcement comes after HSBC also said it would also be closing its Honiton branch this summer, while nearby Axminster lost its last remaining bank in November.

It led Mr Foord to call for more banking hubs, which allow customers from different banks to deposit and withdraw money.

Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate earlier this month, he claimed people  increasingly have less access to their own money because of the closures.

Mr Foord asked economic secretary to the treasury Andrew Griffith (Conservative) when Axminster will be getting a banking hub. Talks have been ongoing, but one has yet to materialise.

In response, Mr Griffith said: “There are 70 cash hubs on their way. Members throughout the House [of Commons], including a number of [Mr Foord’s] colleagues in Devon, have procured them.

“It sometimes takes a little while for them to appear because of planning issues or the need to get the right power arrangements and safe access in place for constituents.”

The government minister added that access to cash and the ability to deposit it will be protected by law.

Tim ponders what new information has caused EDDC to reopen the Humphreys investigation

Quite fascinating to ponder what this new information might be – and what it might say about the quality of the initial investigation in which so many declined to be interviewed, or as in the case of the Monitoring Officer, restricted what he was willing to share.

With luck, it might be something that would prompt Devon and Cornwall police to seek a review of their conduct, by another force, for what appear to be failures at the earliest stages of this matter. – Tim

(Originally posted as comment)

Two Barclays branches to close in Devon in latest shutdowns – Tiverton & Honiton

Barclays Bank has announced the closure of more of its branches across the country – including two in Devon. The banking giant revealed its plans to shut 14 more branches across England and Wales which is set to take place in June.

Chloe Parkman www.devonlive.com

According to The Mirror, the latest closures come on top of the 55 branches the bank had already announced would shut this year. This means that the bank will close at least 69 branches by the end of 2023.

The latest announcement has confirmed that both Tiverton and Honiton are set to lose their Barclays branches in June this year.

However, despite the upcoming closures, the bank – which runs pop-up sites – is set to open new ‘banking pods’. The ‘banking pods’ are semi-permanent sites that can be moved to different locations based on demand.

Barclays currently has 200 pop-up sites and has announced plans to increase this number by another 70, while it also has ten of its “banking pods”.

The bank also runs an educational and support van service for people who need financial advice on topics such as saving for a home or setting up a business. You can find your nearest service on the Barclays website.

Customers can also access certain facilities at Post Office branches including cash and cheque deposits, checking your balance and withdrawing cash.

Which branches are set to close as part of the latest announcement?

  • 46 Rhosmaen Street, Llandeilo, Wales, SA19 6HF – June 23, 2023
  • 38/42 High St, Mold, Wales, CH7 1BB – June 30, 2023
  • 12 Station Street, Saltburn-by-the-Sea, England, TS12 1AB – June 30, 2023
  • 24 Fore Street, Tiverton, England, EX16 6LE – June 28, 2023
  • 106 High Street, Honiton, England, EX14 1JW – June 23, 2023
  • 10 The Square, Caterham, England, CR3 6XH – June 23, 2023
  • 112 Woodcote Road, Wallington, England, SM6 0LY – June 28, 2023
  • 65/67 Sandgate Road, Folkestone, England, CT20 1RY – June 23, 2023
  • 66 Market Place, Chippenham, England, SN15 3JA- June 23, 2023
  • 1 The Square, Holmes Chapel, England, CW4 7AF- June 27, 2023
  • 13/15 Victoria Square, Holmfirth, England, HD9 2DW – June 23, 2023
  • 337/339 Stanley Road, Bootle, England, L20 3EB – June 30, 2023
  • 207 High Road, Loughton, England, IG10 1AZ – June 22, 2023
  • 28 Chesterton Road, Cambridge, England, CB4 3AZ – June 28, 2023

The Mirror claims it has contacted Barclays for comment.

I have a list of second jobs for MPs to consider:

From a correspondent:

I have a list of second jobs for MPs to consider:

Carer for Social Services

Community Police Officer

Any lowest-paid job in their local NHS hospital

Teaching assistant for children with special needs

Food Bank Worker

Toilet cleaner

Delivery driver

Road sweeper

Waiter or waitress in a local restaurant …

You get my drift

Watch the Kwasi Kwarteng job interview

Former chancellor boasts of his political career in hope of securing £10,000-a-day second job

Kwasi Kwarteng told representatives of a fake South Korean firm that he could introduce them to Boris Johnson – the “best campaigner you will ever see” – in the hope of securing a £10,000-a-day second job.

Kwarteng also indicated that Conservative whips would allow him to skip his parliamentary duties in order to further the interests of the fake firm, after apparently being duped by the campaign group Led By Donkeys.

Typo ….. yeah …..right

Seemingly ambitious Defra hedgerow targets actually due to typo

The UK environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, has disappointed campaigners after revealing that an ambitious hedgerow plan for England was in fact a typographical error.

Helena Horton www.theguardian.com 

At the end of January, environment groups were delighted when Coffey revealed the government’s Environmental Improvement Plan would include aims to plant 30,000 miles of new hedgerows a year by 2037 and 45,000 a year by 2050.

Unlike many of the other pledges, this significantly outstripped recommendations by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) and other experts.

However, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has admitted that this was in fact a typo, and that the targets are for 30,000 miles altogether by 2037, and 45,000 altogether by 2050. This is significantly less than the first draft of the plan promised and about half of what the CCC recommends, which is 40% more hedgerows by 2050.

Expanding hedgerows has been seen as a relatively easy win for tackling the climate and biodiversity crisis, as they quite easily fit into the farmed environment while having many benefits for carbon storage and wildlife. Half of England’s hedgerows are estimated to have been ripped up since the second world war for farming purposes, and campaigners have been asking for them to be put back into the landscape.

The Liberal Democrat environment spokesperson, Tim Farron, said: “Defra should invest in a proof reader. Their accidental target was significantly better than the revised one.

“Once again, the government has failed to create a meaningful plan to recover our natural environment. Their targets lack ambition and without the proper systems in place are likely to be missed entirely.”

Environment groups called for more ambitious targets. Tom Fyans, the interim CEO of the countryside charity CPRE, said: “We need to see at least double the level of ambition. The Climate Change Committee’s recommendation was for 40% more hedgerows by 2050. We estimate that means around 100,000 miles by 2050 instead of the 45,000 miles ministers have included in the Environmental Improvement Plan – so less than half of what’s needed.

“But putting the target to one side, it’s also important that the government turns its mind to delivery. This target isn’t worth the paper it’s written on without more funding and support for farmers.”

Barnaby Coupe, the land use policy manager for The Wildlife Trusts, added: “We desperately need to replant lost hedgerows, as well as improving the quality of those that exist today. Government funding and ambition should reflect the importance of hedgerows in creating wildlife corridors – and planning and planting of this vital habitat should be a key priority.”

A Defra spokesperson admitted the error and said: “Hedgerows are important ecological building blocks across our landscapes. Our new farming schemes will continue to invest in incentives for maintenance and planting of hedgerows across the country.

“We set out our ambition in the Environment Improvement Plan that through the support of government schemes 65 to 80% of landowners and farmers will adopt nature friendly farming practices on at least 10 to 15% of their land by 2030. They will also be supported to create or restore 30,000 miles of hedgerows by 2037 and 45,000 miles of hedgerows by 2050.”

UK planning to launch watered down net zero strategy in oil capital Aberdeen

Tories “getting rid of the green crap” – to quote David Cameron, remember him? – Owl

Fiona Harvey www.theguardian.com 

The government is planning to launch its revamped net zero strategy from the UK’s oil and gas capital, Aberdeen, in a clear signal of its intention to boost the fossil fuel industry while cutting key green measures, the Guardian has learned.

Next week’s launch was originally called “green day” in Whitehall, but has been rebranded as “energy security day” and will focus on infrastructure. Campaigners have called the move a travesty.

Plans to extend offshore drilling for oil and gas will be cited as necessary to keep the lights on, and justified by investment in nascent carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which is as yet untested at scale.

The revamped net zero plans, including a green growth strategy, will contain major sops to the UK’s fossil fuel industries and will miss out on key green measures. The Guardian has learned that the plans, still under wraps before Thursday’s launch, will include the following:

  • Ministers will refuse to force oil and gas companies to stop flaring by 2025, as recommended in the review of net zero by Chris Skidmore earlier this year.
  • Ofgem will not gain important powers to include the net zero target in its regulation of the energy sector, effectively defanging the regulator.
  • No overarching new office for net zero, as recommended in the Skidmore review.
  • No compulsion on housebuilders to fit rooftop solar to new housing.
  • No comprehensive nationwide programme for insulation of the UK’s draughty housing stock, as green groups have been calling for. Instead, the strongest insulation measure is likely to be a consultation on the private rented sector.
  • The Treasury, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, and the Department for Business and Trade are at war over whether to introduce carbon border taxes.
  • Major roles for carbon capture and storage technology and hydrogen, which could boost the oil and gas industry with questionable gains for the environment.
  • The potential licensing of a massive new oilfield, Rosebank, under cover of investing in carbon capture and storage technology, which campaigners warn is “greenwash”.

Green experts and campaigners were “astounded” at the rebranding of what had been widely trailed as “green day”, and by the plans to unveil it in Aberdeen, the centre of the UK’s oil and gas industry.

Tom Burke, a co-founder of the E3G thinktank, said: “This is Fawlty Towers politics – don’t mention the environment! It’s a sop to the right wing. It’s clear this is not a strategy, just an assembly of lobby interests.”

He said the UK economy would suffer. “The real problem for the UK is that the US, with the Inflation Reduction Act, and the EU have started the race for a green economy. That race has gone off and we are not in the race. Green day was supposed to be an opportunity to get back in the green race, but this is just supporting [fossil fuel] lobbies.”

A last-minute change of venue is still possible, though Aberdeen is the favoured option, and rows are ongoing over whether the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, will lead the launch.

The launch next week will include several key elements and involve at least four government departments. Ministers are compelled to publish a revamped net zero strategy by the end of this month, after Friends of the Earth and other campaigners won a court case last year that found the previous strategy inadequate.

Green measures in the strategy are likely to include an expansion of renewable energy, includingoffshore and onshore wind – the latter currently in effect banned in England – and it will also include plans to produce green hydrogen. Electric vehicle manufacturing will be a focus, with the potential for a mandate requiring companies to sell more of them, as will heat pumps.

Ministers will also respond to each of the 130 recommendations of the net zero review, conducted by the Tory MP Chris Skidmore, and will publish a 70-page green growth strategy, and a green finance strategy from the Treasury. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will also make fresh commitments on the UK’s carbon footprint.

While the government sets out its energy security strategy, a decision on a licence for the massive new Rosebank oilfield has reached the desk of Grant Shapps, the energy secretary, the Guardian has learned. If it goes ahead, new estimates by the campaign group Uplift show that Rosebank, expected to cost £4.1bn to develop, could receive an effective taxpayer subsidy worth £3.75bn through tax breaks and the loophole in the government’s windfall tax that spares oil and gas investment.

This would mean that Equinor, the Norwegian state-owned company behind the potential field, would pay only £350m to develop Rosebank, which is three times the size of the Cambo oilfield. Equinor made £62bn last year, and about 80% of the oil from Rosebank is likely to be exported, rather than bolstering the UK’s energy security.

A spokesperson for Equinor said the company did not recognise the Uplift estimate, and cited a separate industry report that found the Rosebank project could bring £26.8bn to the UK through tax payments and investments into the UK economy. The spokesperson said: “Rosebank has the potential to strengthen energy security with oil and gas that is produced with a much lower carbon footprint than current UK production.”

Tessa Khan, the executive director of Uplift, said: “Approving Rosebank would be an unbelievably bad deal for Britain. UK taxpayers would effectively cover almost all the costs of developing Rosebank by giving Equinor billions in tax breaks. The oil would most likely be exported, and Norway would take the profit.”

Ed Miliband, the shadow climate change and net zero secretary, said: “The Conservatives’ latest energy relaunch is daylight robbery, a colossal waste of taxpayers money, and climate vandalism on an epic scale. Funnelling billions from the British people to foreign-owned oil and gas companies already making record profits is one of the worst deals in British history and an insult to millions facing the cost of living crisis.”

The potential Rosebank decision and the energy security launch proposals come after climate scientists issued their “final warning” this week that the world would breach the crucial threshold of 1.5C of global heating without urgent action. The UN secretary general, António Guterres, called for an end to new oil and gas development in response.

Relying on CCS technology to bring down emissions was “greenwash” and would benefit the oil and gas industry, said Greenpeace. “Carbon capture is not zero carbon; is unlikely to see dramatic cost reductions or be scalable; and is often used for greenwashing by oil and gas companies so they can carry on polluting. It doesn’t do what it says on the tin and certainly should not be prioritised as part of a green industrial strategy.”

Chris Venables, of the Green Alliance thinktank, said: “There can be no energy security while the UK remains dangerously reliant on volatile global oil and gas markets. A real plan to bring down eye-watering energy bills by protecting the public from expensive fossil fuels must have renewable energy at its heart. Luckily, the government has a whole range of incredibly simple tools at its disposal to speed up the rollout of cheap, clean power. If those remain collecting dust on the shelf next week, it will be almost impossible for industry and business, never mind environmentalists and fuel poverty groups, to take this new plan seriously at all.”

The Guardian has approached the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero for comment.

Top Tory MPs ask for £10,000 a day to work for fake Korean company

Watch the video

The former chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, and former health secretary, Matt Hancock, agreed to work for £10,000 a day to further the interests of a fake South Korean firm after apparently being duped by the campaign group Led by Donkeys.

Kwarteng attended a preliminary meeting at his parliamentary office and agreed in principle to be paid the daily rate after saying he did not require a “king’s ransom”. When Hancock was asked his daily rate, he responded: “It’s 10,000 sterling.”

Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee, also attended an online meeting for the fake foreign firm from his parliamentary office. When asked about the limits on arranging meetings, he made clear he could not advocate on behalf of the interest but said he may be able to advise the firm on who to approach in government. He said a rate of about £6,000 a day “feels about right” and any payments would be on a public register.

A fourth MP, former minister Stephen Hammond, who had been approached, said this weekend he considered he had been the victim of a “scam”. He said he thought he was engaged in a preliminary discussion with a company but “it turns out this company was fake, with a fake website”. Hancock’s spokesperson said he had acted “entirely properly” and criticised what he described as the “illegal publication of a private conversation”.

The senior politicians have complied with all relevant rules and referred to their obligation to their constituents during preliminary meetings. The Led by Donkeys project, conducted with investigative reporter Antony Barnett, comes at a time when people face a cost of living crisis. The campaign group released a report on its investigation on Twitter on Saturday , with recorded undercover footage.While they are not prohibited from such meetings and no arrangements were finalised, there is currently intense scrutiny of politicians’ outside earnings. Labour has said it will ban most second jobs for MPs if it wins power……

www.theguardian.com (Extract)

Who bats for his Devon constituents?

Photo of Richard FoordRichard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)  10:07 am, 22nd March 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Sharma. SEND services in Devon have been in serious crisis for a long time, probably three or four years, with the situation deteriorating lately. Last year, Devon County Council apologised for failing to improve SEND services, and promised that things would improve and that it would redouble its efforts. We are continuing to see a problem around a lack of political leadership and of oversight at the council. My postbag is heavy with correspondence from constituents who are at their wits’ end trying to get the support and educational placements that children need.

The wait times for assessments are far beyond the statutory 20 weeks. The lack of educational psychologists is leaving families uncertain, having to juggle work commitments and looking after their child at the same time. It is definitely leading to people being outside of the workforce who would otherwise be fulfilling an important role in it. The looming threat in Devon of these services being placed in special measures, or removed from the council’s remit, shows that things must change. The promise of more money in the forthcoming council budget is welcome. The Government’s recent announcement of a new SEND school at Cranbrook is again welcome, but we need to ensure that taxpayers’ money is being spent effectively to deliver the SEND placements that our children deserve.

I have had constituents contact me to highlight situations where a child is allocated a placement that is wholly unsuitable for them, and the child cannot take it up but remains on the school roll, with the funding also remaining assigned to that school. We need to ensure that money follows the child and that appropriate frontline services are delivered regardless of where the child then moves. I have seen for myself in East Devon that SEND pupils are being taught in cupboards and storage rooms, and I know that that is not unique to my part of Devon, because I have also seen it reported on the BBC. We should not allow that to continue. I cannot help but admire the parents who are pushing Devon County Council and the Government on this. Devon SEND Parents and Carers for Change staged a protest at county hall in Exeter last month, and they are trying to shine a spotlight on some of these failings.

It is not all gloom; there are some examples of best practice. My constituent, Danielle Punter, has written books and a blog—autability.co.uk—with tips on education and support in understanding neurodivergence. Danielle pointed out last month that when partial school closures happen as a result of lockdown or strikes, it is often special needs school pupils who are most affected, because those schools need to be fully staffed in order for children with a high level of SEND requirements to get the best possible care, otherwise they need to stay at home. In short, we need to get to grips with some of these repeated failures, particularly in Devon, and that will require political leadership and political oversight.

Croydon council prepares legal action against ex CEO over £430k payout

Owl can always dream!

(Councillors also agreed that evidence of alleged “misconduct, wrongdoing and failures” by previous senior leaders that led to its £1.6bn of “toxic” debt would be handed to the Met Police for investigation.)

A crisis-hit London town hall is preparing to take “unprecedented” legal action in a bid to claw back some of the £437k payoff its former chief executive received before the council was forced to declare bankruptcy.

Rachael Burford www.standard.co.uk

Jo Negrini got the substantial payout when she was laid off as chief executive of Croydon Council in August 2020, just months before the local authority admitted it could not set a balanced budget and would need a Government bailout.

Since then it has issued three bankruptcy notices. Earlier this month the council signed-off a record 15 per cent council tax rise.

During a meeting on Thursday night–in what is thought to be a first for a British council–members backed instructing lawyers to recover as much of Ms Negrini’s payout “as is legally possible”.

Councillors also agreed that evidence of alleged “misconduct, wrongdoing and failures” by previous senior leaders that led to its £1.6bn of “toxic” debt would be handed to the Met Police for investigation.

This includes details of former cabinet members and their involvement in a botched refurbishment of Fairfield Halls, which was delayed and £37.5 million over budget.

Croydon’s Conservative Executive Mayor Jason Perry said he will write to Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove asking him to “urgently review councils’ powers to hold individuals to account for catastrophic failures in governance”.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life, the House of Commons Select Committee on Local Government and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) are also being asked to scrutinse the proposals.

Mr Perry, who became leader of the council last May, said: “Like so many residents I feel angry about what has happened to my hometown.

“The scale and severity of the financial collapse is unprecedented and that is why we are recommending unprecedented steps.

“The council has £1.6bn toxic debt in total and has had to seek permission to borrow £369m from government.

“It is completely unacceptable that individuals who held positions of trust should escape the consequences of their misconduct. Nor should they be rewarded for their failures while our residents, businesses and partners continue to pay the price.

“I will also be making the case to government that councils must have greater powers to hold former officers and members to account for misconduct – without risking further costs to the taxpayer.

“This is something that I will be asking government to look at as a matter of urgency.”

During the meeting, current chief executive Katherine Kerswell added: “What has occurred at Croydon has clearly been very damaging to our finances and ability to perform our key public service functions and most importantly undermined public trust in this council.

“As such, the council’s current leadership are duty bound to ensure that those responsible for the situation are fairly and properly held to account.”

The Conservative’s won control of the council from Labour last year.

Several internal investigations have been published into its financial collapse since then.

The Penn report, published last month, found that the council was a “highly dysfunctional organisation” under the previous Labour administration with a small number of cabinet members making decisions without appropriate scrutiny.

Workers interviewed for the probe described Ms Negrini as having a “bullying style”, the report said.

“The decision to take this unprecedented action was fully supported by Croydon’s Labour councillors. We understand entirely the public’s desire to see former senior leaders at the council properly held to account,”  Croydon Labour Group said in a statement.

A source from the previous administration told the Standard that Ms Negrini had always appeared to be “engaged” in council business and “competent” .

UK ‘less prepared for a pandemic now than before Covid’

This doctrinaire Government has flogged off the Vaccines and Manufacturing and Innovation Centre once fast tracked at the beginning of Covid to fill a strategic hole in our response capability.

Just think how successful water privatisation has been in serving public needs.

Next time we will be well and truly stuffed- Owl 

Britain is less prepared for a pandemic now than it was three years ago, thanks to the sale of a key vaccine manufacturing plant, leading scientists have warned.

Tom Whipple www.thetimes.co.uk 

Professor Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute, which was responsible for the Oxford Covid vaccine, said that the recent loss of the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC) in Oxfordshire, which had been created to respond to outbreaks, showed that the UK had been going backwards since the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s less that we haven’t learnt the lessons — we’re aware of the lessons,” he said. “We just haven’t taken the action that’s required from those lessons. And we’re looking at our toes again, rather than doing something about it.”

Have we learnt any lessons from the dystopia of Covid lockdown?

The £200 million tax-payer-funded facility was set up as a not-for-profit company, partly in response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak. It was intended to help vaccines from a diverse set of technologies into manufacturing and quickly increase production during pandemics.

When coronavirus struck, the facility was repurposed with a view to mass manufacture, but now that the vaccines are being made by pharmaceutical companies, it has been sold to Catalent, a US company. This means that the UK is once again without a flexible manufacturing facility that can respond to outbreaks. A government spokesman said: “VMIC Limited has always been a private company and the government had no role in the sale of its manufacturing centre. Catalent is a highly-regarded global company and its expansion in the UK will further strengthen our biotherapeutics industry.”

Hill said the loss of control was baffling. “The man in the street thinks the UK is really good at this, thanks to all the publicity about what we did during the pandemic, and probably feels we’re in a relatively good place. Well, we’re actually in a worse place than we were three years ago.”

Professor Robin Shattock, from Imperial College, a former chair of VMIC’s board of directors, said he thought the decision to sell had been made on cost grounds. “Suddenly they were worried that they’d built this big white elephant, and they’d be on the hook for the next umpteen years with it ticking over. It probably would have cost £5 million a year — pretty small in defence terms, if you think of it as defence against infectious diseases rather than military defence. But I think that ship has sailed.”

The government recently announced a ten-year partnership with Moderna, the mRNA vaccines manufacturer, to include vaccine manufacturing.

Inside the lab preparing for the next pandemic

Professor Sandy Douglas, from the Jenner Institute, said that in the early stages of an outbreak, when it is not clear that it will spread, it is not enough to rely on pharmaceutical companies. In particular, he said, a system would be needed that took action when “there’s a 10 per cent chance it’s going to be a problem for the UK, rather than waiting until it’s a 99 per cent chance”.

He also said that to combat unknown future threats the UK needed to rely on more than mRNA. “In 2020, everyone was saying never again,” he said. “But entirely predictably, we’re back in the position where a pandemic is something which is probably not going to happen in this parliament and so it’s off the priority list.

“It’s not really clear to me whether the UK has any system for thinking about emergency commissioning. Is there someone in government who would say, ‘Hello, Oxford, we’d like you to make a vaccine against this quickly?’ I’ve no idea.”

Kate Bingham, former head of the Vaccines Task Force, said she still hoped that the government would seek an alternative mechanism. “The sale of VMIC was a definite loss. But I’m still hoping the government listens to these serious concerns and doubles down on advanced biomanufacturing,” she said. “The chancellor said that the UK life sciences sector could shape and define this century. To do this, we need to reinstate our commitment to working with innovators to scale-up and test new vaccines and biotherapeutics which needs leadership and funds.”

Probity in budgeting – then and now, here and there

In a letter sent to households in the past few days, signed by Conservative Group Leader Cllr Philip Skinner, he criticises EDDC’s current leadership for being “wasteful” with taxpayer money, and also for “increasing council tax significantly whilst doubling car parking charges and looking to close public toilets.”

Let us not forget our former Tory administration was prepared to make speculative developments on purchasing property “assets” at the same time as over-running costs of Knowle relocation and the sale of Knowle itself…

The independent-led council scuppered the risky investments (though it could do nothing about past risks) and, as a result, is the only council in Devon that has balanced its books without dipping deep into reserves. It also raised council tax by less than the permitted 5% and well below inflation. 

Here are a couple of posts from the run up to the 2019 election:

Oh-nooooo, 20m investment fund to be set up so East Devon can buy property and raise cash to balance books (Feb 2019)

More than £86.6 million in outstanding loans is owed by EDDC (April 2019)

The local council in deep trouble is Conservative run Devon County which raised council tax by the full whack.

Sidmouth councillor slams East Devon Conservatives over postal vote application forwarding

A local councillor has condemned the East Devon Conservatives for sending out letters encouraging people to apply for postal votes with an application and free return envelope addressed to their own party.


The Conservatives said in the letter that they would “make sure” they forwarded the postal vote application to the electoral office. 

Cllr John Loudoun (Independent East Devon Alliance, Sidmouth Rural), who is also a district council cabinet member, said he viewed the pack as “cynical electioneering” and “blatant data harvesting”.

The East Devon Conservatives were approached for comment but did not respond by the time of publication.

The letter, signed by Conservative Group Leader for East Devon Cllr Philip Skinner (Conservative, Tale Vale), criticises the district council’s current leadership for being “wasteful” with taxpayer money, and also for “increasing council tax significantly whilst doubling car parking charges and looking to close public toilets.”

With regard to postal votes, it reads: “We’ve included a postal vote application with this letter.

“It takes just a moment to fill it in. You can then return it to the local council… or you can send it back to us free of charge using the envelope provided.

“We’ll make sure it’s sent on to the electoral office within two working days.”

District and town council elections will be held in East Devon on 4 May. You can apply for a postal vote here.

More on why the report on Humphreys will be temporarily withdrawn while investigation reopened

We now have an additional piece of the jigsaw puzzle and it’s this:

“The Commissioning Group received further information on Tuesday afternoon which, if accurate, it believes has the potential to materially affect some elements of the Verita Report that was due to be considered by EDDC Councillors on Thursday evening.

“Once this new material has been validated, assessed and properly considered a meeting will be reconvened to consider the Verita Report at the earliest opportunity.”

[The Commissioning Group is led by Simon Davey, Chief Finance Officer, and comprises Cllr Ian Thomas (Council Chair), Cllr Sarah Jackson (portfolio holder for transparency and democracy) and Cllr Jess Bailey.]

By Ewan Murrie BBC South West

A report into how a council handled child sex abuse allegations against a councillor has been withdrawn after new information came to light.

John Humphreys was convicted of sexually assaulting two boys in 2021, and jailed for 21 years.

He was first questioned in 2005 and arrested in 2016, but remained an East Devon District Councillor until 2019.

The report was due to be discussed on Thursday but was withdrawn while the new information is investigated.

The BBC has asked the council what the new information is, but no comment has been provided.

An East Devon District Council (EDDC) spokesperson said: “The Commissioning Group received further information on Tuesday afternoon which, if accurate, it believes has the potential to materially affect some elements of the Verita Report that was due to be considered by EDDC Councillors on Thursday evening.

“Once this new material has been validated, assessed and properly considered a meeting will be reconvened to consider the Verita Report at the earliest opportunity.”

The report was published earlier this week but has now been removed, and the investigation has been reopened.

Council Leader Paul Arnott said he did not know what the new information was.

He said: “It’s very disappointing that a conviction having been achieved in the summer of 2021, that we still aren’t getting to the bottom of this matter.

“We have tried really hard as a council, to make sure that in the interests of the victim, and in the interest of safeguarding for young people and others of east Devon, that we have a proper investigation.

“And yet here we are, at the 11th hour the meeting is cancelled.”

The report found a member of staff was told about the police investigation, but was bound by stringent confidentiality rules and could not tell anyone.

As a result, no safeguarding risk assessment was done and Humphreys was able to carry on coming into contact with children from his arrest in 2016 until standing down from the council in 2019.

In that same year the former mayor of Exmouth was also given an honorary title of alderman.

22% – Rishi Sunak’s overall tax rate for last three years, similar to what a nurse pays


Rishi Sunak saved £300,000 in tax thanks to cut he voted for in 2016

[For comparison Sir Keir Starmer’s effective tax rate is 32%]

Rishi Sunak has saved more than £300,000 in tax thanks to a cut he voted for in 2016, according to an analysis of his tax records.

Kiran Stacey www.theguardian.com 

The prime minister has paid just over £1m in tax over the past three years, most of which was accrued on the gains he has made on his US-based investment portfolio. But that figure would have been £308,167 higher had the top rate of capital gains tax (CGT) not been cut by the Conservative government in 2016.

The figures highlight the disparities between Britain’s income tax rates and its relatively low rates of CGT. The prime minister’s overall tax rate for the last three years was 22%, roughly equivalent to what a nurse would pay in income tax.

Dan Neidle, the founder of Tax Policy Associates, said: “This is about whether it is fair for people holding investments to pay about half the rate of people getting income through their salary. It is hard to see how it can be.”

Britain’s CGT rates were aligned with income tax rates until 1998, when Gordon Brown slashed them as chancellor. His successor Alistair Darling put them back up 10 years later, however, introducing a top rate of 28%.

In 2016, the Tory government cut that top rate back down to 20%, arguing it would encourage business investment. Sunak, then the new MP for Richmond, argued several times in the debate that followed that the cut was an important pro-business step – without saying whether he might benefit from it.

Sunak said in parliament in 2016: “I am confident that reducing capital gains tax rates – together with a brand new 10% rate for long-term investments in private businesses – will unlock millions in much-needed funding. From speaking with investors this past week, it is clear that those policies have cut through and generated a fresh wave of enthusiasm for investing in British companies.”

A No 10 source said: “The tax return shows that a considerable amount of capital gains tax is being paid.”

Sunak’s tax affairs came to prominence last summer, when it emerged his wife, Akshata Murty, had saved millions on her UK tax bill by claiming non-dom status while her husband was chancellor. Murty gave up her non-dom status last year.

The prime minister had promised for months to release his tax returns, eventually deciding to release a three-page summary of them on Wednesday, in the middle of the testimony by the former PM Boris Johnson to a parliamentary committee investigating Partygate.

The timing of the release triggered accusations that the prime minister was shying away from scrutiny. The fact that the vast majority of his earnings came in the form of capital gains has refocused attention on CGT policy.

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, said on Thursday: “I do think there’s a wider point about choices here. The choices they’ve made on tax and the tax system are obvious. They always go after working people; just look at the last 12 months.”

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Starmer also announced he would give up the unique tax perk he received as director of public prosecutions if Labour won the next election.

Starmer was given a bespoke pension that would have meant he did not have to pay tax on contributions above the lifetime tax-free limit, under an arrangement that had also been made for DPPs before him. Labour has promised to restore the lifetime limit after it was scrapped at last week’s budget, but the Labour leader was accused of hypocrisy after his own pension arrangements were revealed.

On Thursday, Starmer confirmed he would give up the carve-out if he became prime minister. He said: “When we reverse that change the government put in place last week I will be included within that, whatever changes are needed within legislation or anything else.

“I’m very happy to be – and will be – in the same position as everybody else in this country.”

Tom McPhail, a pensions expert at financial consultancy the Lang Cat, estimated Starmer’s decision could end up costing him tens of thousands of pounds more in tax payments until his retirement.

Boris Johnson claimed No 10 drinks party was for official who didn’t leave until month later

Boris Johnson has been urged to correct his Partygate inquiry testimony after he was found to have claimed a No 10 party marked the exit of the top civil servant who did not resign until a month later.

Adam Forrest www.independent.co.uk (Extract)

The former Tory prime minister claimed the notorious “bring your own booze” garden party on 20 May 2020 had been aimed at motivating staff because cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill had quit.

But Mr Sedwill did not resign until 29 June 2020 – more than a month later – revealing he would step down from his top Downing Street role in September.

Claiming the drinks gathering was purely a work event, an angry Mr Johnson told MPs: “People who say we were partying in lockdown simply do not know what they are talking about.

“People who say that that event was a purely social gathering are quite wrong,” the ex-PM said of the garden event – at which Mr Johnson and were seen with staff drinking bottles of wine.

The former PM added: “My purpose there was to thank staff, was to motivate them in what had been a very difficult time – and what was also a very difficult day in which the cabinet secretary had just resigned.”

But Mr Johnson’s former top adviser Dominic Cummings said the “bring your own booze” garden party “had nothing to do with assuring staff after cabinet secretary resignation”.

Mr Cummings said MPs on the cross-party privileges committee would have to write to Mr Johnson “confirming that a resignation in June could not possibly have been his justification for holding an event in May”……

Breaking: Last night’s council meeting to discuss Verita report on Humphreys pulled 

At the eleventh hour!

Despite this, BBC Spotlight featured the story, giving for once, a good summary of the case, pointing out that Humphreys continued as a councillor with access to children, after his arrest in 2016,  until 2019 . He was  then given the honorary title and status of Alderman. A title that is given to councillors who have given “great service”. Although one member of staff knew of the arrest, confidentiality meant that the EDDC safeguarding officer and others were kept in the dark.

The reason given for postponement is that “new evidence” has come to light at the last minute. 

An individual has come forward with  information that, if accurate, could materially affect the conclusions of the report.

The investigation has had to be reopened.

Paul Arnott was interviewed. He expressed disappointment that despite a conviction having been achieved in 2021, we still haven’t got to the bottom of the matter. He explained, the council has tried very hard in the interests of the victims and safeguarding young people and others in East Devon to get a proper  investigation. Yet here we are, he said, at the eleventh hour and the meeting is cancelled.

Paul Arnott waits to find out what this information is.

In the light of this week’s devastating report into the Met Police and the interrogation of a past Prime Minister at the Parliamentary Privilege committee for misleading parliament, candour in public service ought to be the order of the day.

To avoid speculation EDDC needs to explain urgently what is going on. – Owl

Boris Johnson attempted to gaslight us all – but simply fell apart under scrutiny

Never had an emperor worn fewer clothes

For just a moment, you could almost feel sorry for him. Boris Johnson sat in front of the Commons Privileges Committee for hour after gruelling hour this afternoon. And bit by bit, question by question, he simply fell apart.

Ian Dunt inews.co.uk

There were sporadic outbursts of rage and entitlement. “This is just complete nonsense,” he barked at the MPs at one point. “Complete nonsense.” There were looks of startled outrage as the carefully constructed defences he had created were slowly and methodically demolished. But most of all there was just this strange, angry little man-child left utterly exposed.

Behind him, there was an array of silk the likes of which we rarely get to see. Somewhere around £222,000 worth of taxpayer-funded barrister sat with him, including Lord Pannick, whose usual rate is £5,000 an hour. His expressions were a masterclass in legal aloofness. For whole sections he sat with a smile on his lips, as if he’d just been introduced to a charming new jazz album.

But towards the end, even Pannick started to give way. By the time the session ended, he was balanced on the very edge of his chair, the smile gone. In front of him, his client was flailing around, all at sea, his every utterance more preposterous and improbable than the last.

Throughout the week, Johnson’s allies in the press have been stressing that he was preparing to unleash stunning new evidence that would show up the Committee inquiry for the farce which it really was. “Boris Johnson’s ‘bombshell’ that will ‘exonerate him from Partygate’,” The Telegraph said. “Bullish Boris up for the fight,” the Mail shouted.

Over the course of the afternoon, it slowly became clear what this bombshell was: nothing at all.

Johnson’s account of the parties in Downing Street during the Covid restrictions was tenuous and absurd. He insisted that all the events were essential for work purposes because he had to maintain staff morale. He claimed they were not parties, even though they involved no work, lots of socialising, plentiful alcohol and sometimes ended early in the morning. He mangled himself into impossibly contorted positions stressing the exceptions on guidance on social distancing.

It was gaslighting on a national scale. Everyone could remember what the rules were. They could remember how strenuously those rules were explained to them, because it was Johnson who did it, night after night from his Covid press conference lectern. And they could see, quite clearly, that none of these events met those requirements.

The inquiry is about whether Johnson misled the Commons, either purposefully or recklessly. It’s about whether he said things which were wrong, how quickly he corrected them, and what he did to ascertain whether they were true. And that was where he came completely unstuck.

On 1 December 2021, he told the Commons: “All guidance was followed completely in No 10.” A few days later, he said: “I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that all guidance was followed completely.”

One of the key priorities of the Committee was to find out the basis upon which he said that. Of all the MPs questioning him, it was Alberto Costa, an innocuous, mild-mannered Conservative with no great record in rebellions or Parliamentary speeches, who did the most damage. He was like a quiet sorrowful assassin, seemingly deeply saddened by what he was doing, but proceeding regardless, each question more dangerous and forensic than the last. And under that questioning, the former prime minister wilted.

Did Johnson seek assurances about the legality of the gatherings from any of the Government lawyers available to him, or from the Attorney General, or from anyone in government legal services? No, he answered. Did he seek assurances from anyone in the senior civil service, the permanent secretaries or heads of department who might have some understanding of the rules and guidance? Also no.

So who did he seek guidance from? And that was where Johnson’s supposed bombshell came in. It was from his two directors of communication: James Slack and Jack Doyle. It wasn’t really guidance at all, in any meaningful sense. It was just the lines-to-take, the statements put out by the press team to handle media responses.

Not only that, but even these figures didn’t seem convinced by the idea that the guidance had been followed. “I’m struggling to come up with a way this one is in the rules,” Doyle said in a conversation with a No 10 official on 25 January last year.

“Some might see your reliance on the repeated assurances you received as a deflection mechanism to prevent having to answer questions about your knowledge of these gatherings,” Costa said, the knife now firmly embedded in Johnson’s chest. “Would that not be a fair assessment?” Johnson sputtered and raged.

Harriet Harman, chair of the committee, then zeroed in on the former prime minister. “I was in the House when these assurances were given,” she said. “We took them to be serious assurances. Would you not expect us to be a bit dismayed to hear it was not from senior civil servants, it was from political appointees? That they themselves had doubts about it? That it only covered one gathering and it didn’t cover the other three? And also you were there at the time, so it’s a bit hard to understand what the nature of an assurance is when you were there and saw it with your own eyes?”

Johnson tried desperately to intervene. His lawyers perched ever further on the edge of their seats, furrowing their brows. But it was clear that the fight was over. Never had an emperor worn fewer clothes than those upon him this afternoon.