Some Leicester factories stayed open and forced staff to come in, report warns

Some garment factories in Leicester stayed open as normal throughout the coronavirus crisis and ordered workers to continue to report for duty even when they were sick, a report from a campaign group has claimed.

The findings from Labour Behind the Label includes allegations that workers were forced to work despite high levels of infection in factories and allegations of “furlough fraud”.

Denis Campbell

After Leicester became the first city in the UK to have a second lockdown imposed on Monday night, experts and community organisers said that the city’s notorious garment manufacturing sector appeared to have played a key part in the disease’s resurgence.

And on Tuesday, testimony compiled by Labour Behind the Label set out what the report’s authors claimed was a “shameful” disregard for worker safety by the factories and the major UK brands operating in Leicester.

One unnamed worker quoted in the report said he had told his employer he was unwell but was told to come in to work anyway – even after testing positive. He was told not to tell any other workers about the result, the report said. In one factory with 80 staff, around 15 had Covid-19 at the same time, another worker told the authors.

Workers in a number of factories told the group that there had been no physical distancing measures in place and that their employers had closed only for a few days, if at all.

The report came as it emerged that Public Health England had found evidence that young men between 20 and 40 who work in the city’s garment factories and food processing plants were major vectors of transmission.

It is understood that the body became so concerned about the surge in cases in Leicester that they sent a team of officials to the city at the weekend to investigate. Analysis of data collected by local health bodies shows that many of those infected recently have been young men aged 20 to 40, often from an Asian background, many of them working in textiles and food.

Leicester’s garment factories have been the subject of concern for years. A report by the parliamentary environmental audit committee last year found that wage exploitation was flourishing in the city and across the sector more broadly. MPs behind the report heard it was an “open secret” that many of the 1,000 or so factories and workshops in the city were paying below the minimum wage.

The mostly immigrant workers, many of whom have limited English, are paid as little as £3 an hour in some cases. A failure to communicate lockdown rules to those communities has also been viewed as playing a part in the resurgence of the virus in Leicester.

Mick Cheema, whose Basic Premier brand has often been highlighted as an ethical clothing manufacturer in the city, said he was aware of “manufacturers who have been operating without a risk assessment in place for covid”.

He added: “Social distancing within those workplaces is not normal. Some have carried on operating as they did before the crisis.”

Priya Thamotheram, head of the Highfields community centre, who has campaigned about factory working conditions for years, said he had no “personal knowledge” of what was happening in factories because he had not been able to go inside. “But what I hear from those who pass by those factories is that workers are going in, and things are continuing apace in those settings,” he told the Guardian.

The Labour Behind the Label report also highlighted “furlough fraud”, including workers being asked to hide payslips so that management could claim more public money and being told to come to work if they wished to be paid furlough money.

Dominique Muller, the author of the Labour Behind the Label report, said substantial new orders for clothing during lockdown were behind the factories staying open, and accused major brands including Boohoo of failing to do enough to monitor conditions at the factories. The report said Boohoo accounted for at least 75% of clothing production in Leicester and called on the company to identify its suppliers so that their practices could be scrutinised.

“Allegations of abuse at many Leicester companies have been reported for years now,” Muller said. “So far, the local and central government have failed to take any meaningful action. Instead they have seemed to focus on immigration raids, which have made vulnerable workers more fearful of speaking out.”

Boohoo said in a statement that it had “fundamentally changed the way that we operate” since coronavirus and that “every decision we have made has had the safety and wellbeing of our people at heart”. It said it was confident that those in its supply chain were operating safely and that it provided free PPE and sanitiser as well as remaining in close contact.

Emphasising its strict code of conduct, it said: “None of our suppliers have been affected at this time and we are pleased that our in-house compliance team have been able to resume their work. Our third-party auditors are also out visiting sites this week.”

As well as problems with factory conditions, others have suggested that the outbreak gained pace among workers in food processing sites around the city and spread quickly in part because of overcrowded housing.

A number of factories in the St Saviours Road area, where much of Leicester’s manufacturing output is based and which is among the worst affected areas of the city, were open on Tuesday. Proprietors and managers complained that they had not been given clear guidance on how they should operate by the council.

Many windows were boarded up or blocked from within, making it difficult to see how many workers were inside. One textile factory manager, who refused to give his name, strongly denied that there had been any misconduct during the lockdown period: “These are untrue claims by people who are never here to tell the good news about Leicester. Everybody here has been very careful.”

HMRC and the Treasury ‘interfered’ with independent review

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Treasury “directly interfered” with an independent review of tax policy that has been linked with a number of suicides, say a group of 233 MPs and peers.

In September 2019, Sajid Javid – who was Chancellor at the time – commissioned Sir Amyas Morse to lead an independent review into the disguised remuneration Loan Charge.

It came after HMRC attempted to claw back tax avoided through so-called disguised remuneration schemes, used by some locum doctors and nurses to make up the shortfall in the wages caused by the loss of self-employed status, through its Loan Charge policy, which has been linked with at least seven suicides.

HMRC has repeatedly denied claims the Loan Charge acts retrospectively, thus undermining the Rule of Law and tax certainty.

The Morse Review made a number of recommendations, but did not call for the Loan Charge policy to be scrapped, as many critics have called for.

Now, the Loan Charge APPG, one of the largest All-Party Parliamentray Groups, has said that Freedom of Information (FoI) responses “show that the Morse Review was not independent and HMRC and the Treasury interfered from start to finish”.

HMRC and the Treasury have been contacted for a response to the allegation.

In a statement, the Loan Charge APPG said: ” The evidence is some 376 pages of internal emails (link1link2) and 670 pages of the attachments to those emails (link3link4) that clearly shows direct interference in the review by HMRC and the Treasury as well as an inappropriately close relationship between the review team, made up of HMRC and Treasury staff and the two Governmental bodies whose policy the Morse Review was scrutinising.

“In one extraordinary exchange, the Review Team member of staff who is a senior Treasury official agrees to buy beers for the Chancellor’s press secretary.

“In this exchange, when offering to help deal with incoming press enquiries directed at the review, about the report, the Chancellor’s own press secretary was asked to find someone to help with this and tells the Loan Charge Review “Cool. Yes we can help. You owe us beers”.

“The reply from the supposedly independent Review Secretariat is “Great really appreciate it. And happy to line up the beers”.

“The Morse Review has been presented by the Government as independent. It was titled as the ‘Independent Loan Charge Review’ and has been used recently by the Government to justify making no further changes to the Loan Charge beyond those which the review recommended, despite there being thousands of people still facing huge bills for tax that has never been legally proven to be due from them and despite the ongoing risk of suicides, as well as bankruptcies.

“However, internal documentation revealed in a two Freedom of Information requests exposes a clear attempt by HMRC and the Treasury, including senior HMRC management, to direct the review from the outset.

“The Treasury sought to influence the choice of ‘independent experts’ used to advise the review and HMRC sought to change the report before publication.

“It had already been exposed that one of the experts appointed later admitted that she did not have any detailed understanding about self-employed schemes and therefore they were unable to comment on those schemes; an extraordinary admission for someone whose advice was being relied on.

“The Treasury queried whether any expert who had appeared before a Select Committee should be appointed as “it means they are slightly compromised”.

“The Loan Charge APPG make clear they are making no criticism of Sir Amyas Morse, nor for his delivery of this report in what was an unreasonably short timeframe considering the scale of the evidence and with a team made up entirely of HMRC and Treasury staff.

“Instead, the APPG make clear that it is the interference by HMRC and the Treasury that has rendered the already flawed report conclusions as unsound.

“Overall, the information revealed by the emails clearly shows that the review fails basic tests of what would constitute an independent review into a Government policy.”

The APPG also detailed key points from its findings based on evidence contained in emails disclosed through FoI requests.

The key points are as follows:

  • HMRC and the Treasury sought to influence the review from before the start of the review until the date that the final report was issued.
  • The Review secretariat team had an improperly close working relationship with HMRC and Treasury staff.
  • There was clear cooperation and collaboration between the Treasury/HMRC and the Review over dealing with the press. In at least one case, lines were provided for the review team/Sir Amyas to use. Extraordinarily, the Review secretariat discussed responses to press approaches with the Chancellor’s press secretary. They also received and used suggestions from the Treasury as to how to respond to the press.
  • The Treasury sought to influence the choice of experts appointed to advise the review, suggesting that those who have spoken before Select Committees should be avoided. Notably, experts appearing before Select Committees who have been critical of the Loan Charge and of HMRC. This can be seen to be an attempt to steer the review away from any experts who were known to be critical.
  • The Review secretariat team afforded HMRC and the Treasury privileged early access to the report’s conclusions. This early access was not extended to other interested parties who were not given any opportunity to raise concerns on its factual accuracy.

Previously, the Loan Charge APPG published a report that said the Treasury-commissioned Morse Review came to a flawed and unjustified conclusion.

The Morse Review claimed that the “law was clear” from 2010 when the APPG says that this is not the case, according to tax experts.

“The flawed conclusion now makes more sense considering the clear lack of genuine independence and the fact that HMRC interfered with which experts should be appointed to advise the review,” the APPG said.

“This appears to have prevented those experts who have been critical of the Loan Charge from being involved.

“On Wednesday, the Government is facing a challenge from many MPs, including members of the Loan Charge APPG, who have tabled amendments to go further than the flawed Morse Review.

“New Clause 31, tabled by a cross party group of MPs including APPG member David Davis and APPG officers and members seeks to remove the Loan Charge for everyone before 2016 apart from those who deliberately evaded tax.”

Sir Ed Davey, co-chair of the Loan Charge APPG and acting co-leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “The information exposed by Freedom of Information responses clearly shows that the review commissioned by the Government and presented as independent was, in reality, nothing of the sort.

“There was a clear attempt by HMRC and the Treasury to interfere and to direct it from start to finish. We make clear we make no criticism of Sir Amyas Morse, but his review was set up in such a way so as to make an independent review impossible.

“There was clear and inappropriate interference from the two Governmental bodies which were being reviewed. The flawed conclusion of the review must be rejected and Parliament must seek to resolve the Loan Charge Scandal properly.”

Labour MP Ruth Cadbury, co-chair of the Loan Charge APPG, added: “We now know that the Chancellor’s own press secretary was involved in dealing with press enquiries to the review and that there was an inappropriately close relationship between the review Secretariat team, made up of Treasury and HMRC staff, and the Treasury and HMRC, whose policy the review was scrutinising.

“This shatters any illusion of genuine independence and the fact is that this review fails even basic tests of how an independent review should operate. Now it is clear that the conclusion of the Morse Review cannot be relied on, it is up to MPs to do the right thing and to remove the retrospective Loan Charge for everyone other than those for whom HMRC can prove they were deliberate tax evaders”.

Meanwhile, Conservative MP Sir Mike Penning, another co-chair of the Loan Charge APPG, said: “Colleagues from across the House of Commons have consistently expressed their opposition against retrospective legislation, but the now discredited Morse Review recommends that retrospection back to 2010 should remain.

“This recommendation is flawed and it doesn’t address the basic injustice of this clearly retrospective legislation. So we hope that finally Ministers will agree that the retrospective nature of the Loan Charge is wrong and accept the amendment to the Finance Bill to tackle this and allow thousands of people to have the chance to defend themselves in the normal way they are entitled to within our legal system”.

What is a disguised remuneration scheme

Sometime known as Employment Benefit Trusts, these schemes typically see wages paid into an offshore tax haven, then transferred to the contractor as a ‘loan’ that will never be repaid.

HM Treasury says: “The disguised remuneration Loan Charge was introduced to tackle contrived schemes where a person’s income is paid as a loan which does not have to be repaid.

“Disguised remuneration loan schemes were used by tens of thousands of people, and concerns have been raised about the use of the Loan Charge as a way of drawing a line under these schemes. The government is clear that disguised remuneration schemes do not work and that their use is unfair to the 99.8 per cent of taxpayers who do not use them.

Financial Secretary to the Treasury Jesse Norman said: “Everyone should pay their fair share of tax. These disguised remuneration schemes are highly contrived attempts to avoid tax, but it is right to consider if the Loan Charge is the appropriate way of tackling them.”

Now for Plan “C” – Devon’s Nightingale Hospital will NOT treat coronavirus patients

Was this a local decision or a national one? – Just asking out of interest, Owl.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has announced Exeter’s new NHS Nightingale Hospital is to be the first to be converted into a cancer testing centre as of Monday.

Last week, he confirmed it could be used to help other Devon hospitals tackle winter pressures later this year after initially being built to treat Covid-19 patients.

Anita Merritt

Health bosses then confirmed it would remain on standby as a ‘flexible’ hospital. Now it will be used to cope with a huge backlog of potential cancer patients.

On Twitter today, Mr Hancock said: “We will be converting Nightingale hospitals into cancer testing centres, starting with@NightingaleExt on Monday.”

Inside Exeter’s new Nightingale Hospital (Image: NHS)

It has taken six weeks to transform Exeter’s for Homebase store into a hospital.

Building work will finish on the site in Moor Lane, Sowton, at midnight tonight. More than 400 construction workers were on site yesterday.

It will accept its first patients as of July 6.

Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, told the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee today that the Exeter Nightingale site will start screening multiple patients a day starting from Monday.

He claimed there would be a ‘radical’ change to diagnostic methods in the coming months to cope with the growing number of people waiting for tests to find out if they have cancer.

It will be open seven days a week, from 8am to 8pm.

Sir Simon told MPs that a number of private sector hospitals could be transformed into coronavirus-free cancer clinics in the coming months to clear the backlog.

He said: “It’s worth remembering that four fifths of the patients who are on a waiting list are typically waiting for a test or an outpatient appointment, rather than waiting to be admitted to hospital for an operation.

“And given the pressures on hospitals and diagnostic teams are over the March, April, May period, there has been a big a big reduction in the flow of patients through those diagnostic services.

‘We’ve got to do something different. We’ve got to expand diagnostic capacity. We’ve also got to do it in new ways.”

He suggested the Nightingale in Exeter and other dedicated diagnostic and endoscopy suites will be able to see much more patients than standard cancer clinics and said staff will use new types of testing to speed the processes up.

Sir Simon added: “The first of those is going to be the Exeter Nightingale which we are going to partly repurpose for non-Covid CT scanning that will begin next Monday and run eight until eight and seven days a week.

Health commissioners and providers have not yet disclosed how much it is costing to build and then maintain the running of the 116-bed hospital.

Philippa Slinger, the NHS CEO responsible for developing Nightingale Exeter, said on Twitter on Monday: “Had a full “rummage” through @NightingaleExt today [June 29] as build due to complete tomorrow [June 30]at midnight.

“Over 400 on site today all managed through @BAMConstructUK.”

The opening of the hospital will be later than originally confirmed.

The NHS said it would be open by the middle or end of June instead of late May as originally stated when it was proposed to build the hospital at Westpoint.

Earlier this month it was revealed that 10,000 square meters of plasterboard has been installed at the site, along with 8,000 meters of metal stud wall, and 80 kilometers of electrical cable – the same distance from Exmouth to Plymouth.

To prepare the site, 4,000 tonnes of earth has been removed which is equivalent weight of 220 double decker buses.

The Robert Jenrick scandal isn’t unique – British politics is awash with donor cash 

“Last summer I called up a former Conservative minister to talk about the role of political donations in British politics for my new book. He was surprisingly frank. “A little bit of money,” he told me, “goes a long way.”

Peter Geoghegan investigations editor at openDemocracy and the author of Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics

Just how far a little money goes in British politics has seldom been more apparent than in recent weeks.

Political donations are at the heart of the scandal surrounding Robert Jenrick. The housing minister has admitted “apparent bias” in reversing a planning decision against Tory donor Richard Desmond’s proposed Westferry Printworks housing development in east London, overruling local officials and saving the property developer an estimated £45m. Desmond subsequently gave £12,000 to the Conservatives; a Tory spokeswoman said government policy was “in no way influenced by party donations”.

Jenrick’s unlawful intervention came a few months after he had sat beside Desmond at a £900-a-head Conservative fundraiser at the Savoy hotel. On Radio 4’s Today programme last week, Jenrick’s cabinet colleague, the business minister Nadhim Zahawi, suggested that if voters wanted to raise planning issues with their MPs they too could pay to attend Tory functions.

Plenty of property developers seem to have taken Zahawi’s advice. Analysis by openDemocracy last week showed that the Tories received more than £11m from donors connected to property and construction since Boris Johnson came to power – a significant increase on Theresa May’s tenure.

The Conservatives’ donors are not confined to property. The long-delayed Russia report into Kremlin interference in British politics is widely expected to highlight the Conservatives’ reliance on donors with close ties to Moscow. The wife of a former deputy finance minister in Vladimir Putin’s government recently paid £45,000 for a game of tennis with Johnson.

This kind of “cash for access” speaks to an even greater problem: the reliance of British politicians – particularly Tories – on big-money donors, with all the potential for conflicts of interest that goes with it.

There has never been so much private money in British politics. Britain’s 50 richest donors gave a record-breaking £35.5m to parties in 2019. The Conservatives alone raised nearly £40m in the runup to December’s general election.

British political parties depend on fundraising to survive, whether from the manufacturers and financiers who championed Ted Heath’s Conservative leadership in the early 1970s or the City of London millionaires who bankrolled Margaret Thatcher a decade later. Financial transparency has come a long way from the 1980s, when the late Lord McAlpine reputedly turned up in the City with a large sack asking for bundles of cash to fill Tory party confers. Nowadays all donations have be reported to the Electoral Commission.

But there are still plenty of loopholes. Donations of less than £7,500 are not published. That might not sound like much – especially compared with eye-watering sums spent in the United States – but it can be enough to get the ear of a politician.

There are other gaps. For £50,000 a year, donors get to meet the prime minister and leading ministers at the quarterly Leader’s Group dinners. These informal, off-the-record discussions are often the perfect opportunity for “a quiet word” about donors’ pet projects and interests.

David Cameron had agreed to release lists of Leader’s Group meetings after it emerged that the then prime minister was hosting private parties for funders at the Downing Street flat. But the Tories stopped publishing this information a few years ago, and when I checked recently all previous releases had been scrubbed from the party’s website.

There seems little chance of transparency improving on Boris Johnson’s watch. Desmond told the Sunday Times that Johnson committed to changing gambling rules to help his businesses after lobbying the prime minister at a Downing Street event last year. No 10 has refused to say how often the pair had met. Last year, the standards committee chastised Johnson’s “over-casual attitude” towards disclosing his own financial interests.

The Conservatives’ dependence on big money is not unique. The Liberal Democrats received £8m from Lord Sainsbury ahead of the party’s unsuccessful 2019 general election campaign. Labour relies mainly on trade union funding but has seen a notable uptick in private donations since Keir Starmer became leader. The Brexit party received more than £10m from a single donor, the Thai-based investor Christopher Harborne. This includes almost half a million pounds since Christmas despite Nigel Farage’s party barely even maintaining a Facebook page.

Does it matter that parties are so dependent on private money? Well, as the Jenrick affair shows, there can be more than a whiff of impropriety when political donors appear to receive preferential treatment.

A fifth of leading Conservative donors have received honours in recent years. JCB – owned by one of the Tories’ biggest backers, Lord Bamford – was recently given a £600m government-backed Covid corporate finance loan. Earlier this month, the JCB chief executive, Graeme Macdonald, said: “Although not a public company, we are eligible for CCF because of our contribution to the UK economy. We don’t expect to utilise it in the short term but it gives us an insurance policy if there is further disruption from a second spike or other impact around the world.”

While such donations may help party finances, they also serve to fuel declining trust in politics.

Many in the public rightly feel that politics is a rich man’s game. One way to counter that is to reduce the power of money in politics. Currently there is no cap on individual donations, but if the maximum donation was set at, say, £10,000 a year, political parties would be forced to rely on a far wider and more inclusive donor base. That, of course, would leave many parties with an income shortfall – a possible solution here could be for the state to step in and match-fund small donations. Another option is to make the cost of party membership tax-deductible.

However, there is little sign of such creative thinking. The Committee on Standards in Public Life recently announced a long overdue review of British electoral regulation – but the committee’s remit doesn’t include party funding.

Like Saint Augustine, British politicians often say they are all for probity. Just not yet. Until they are, a little bit of money will continue to go a very long way.

PM ‘Helping Property Developer Mates’ With New Planning Reforms

Boris Johnson faced fresh claims that the Tory party is doing favours for its “housing developer mates” after he unveiled sweeping planning reforms to allow high street shops to be turned into housing.

Both Labour and the Council for the Protection of Rural England hit out after the prime minister used a speech in the West Midlands to set out “the most radical reforms of our planning system since the end of the second world war.” 

Under new rules, existing commercial premises including empty shops can be converted into residential housing without the need for permission, and local councils’ role in the planning system will be cut back.

As well as allowing more shops to be turned into homes in city centres, the changes will allow retail premises to be turned permanently into cafes or offices without a planning application or local authority approval.

Pubs, libraries, village shops and other categories essential to the lifeblood of communities will not be covered by the new “flexibilities” to Planning Use Orders.

Builders will no longer need a normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes.

Property owners will also be able to build additional space above their properties via a fast track approval process, subject to neighbour consultation.

The government argues that the changes, which are planned to come into effect by September, will both support the high street by allowing empty commercial properties to be quickly repurposed and also reduce the pressure to build on green field land.

In his speech, Johnson said “we are more slow” in housebuilding than in Germany or the Netherlands.

He said: “Covid has taught us the cost of delay. Why are we so slow at building homes by comparison with other European countries? In 2018 we built 2.25 homes per 1000 people. Germany managed 3.6, the Netherlands 3.8, France 6.8.

“I tell you why – because time is money, and the newt-counting delays in our system are a massive drag on the productivity and the prosperity of this country and so we will build better and build greener but we will also build faster.”

The “newt-counting” remark appeared to be a reference to some housebuilding plans being delayed by wildlife habitat reviews.

Asked if he was prepared to take on ‘Nimby’ opponents of his planning changes, the PM replied: “Yes I can imagine there will be some people who want to object to this or that, but there always are. This country took 35 years to get Crossrail done. We need pace.”

But Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire said that the “land grab” away from councils and affordable homes towards developers could harm rather than help the struggling high street.

Affordable homes are typically added to developments so they comply with local planning regulations, but where councils no longer have a say over whether developments go ahead there is little incentive for this to continue.

A joint report by charity Shelter and estate agent Savills today warned that just 4,300 social homes were set to be built annually as the country recovered from coronavirus – not even enough to clear the waiting list in Wakefield, never mind nationwide.

And the reforms were all the more stark in the light of the Westferry “cash for favours” planning scandal involving housing secretary Robert Jenrick and tycoon Richard Desmond.

“The arrogance of Robert ‘three-homes’ Jenrick proposing a roll-out of ill-adapted rabbit hutches is staggering – permitted development has been shown to be a failure and this is just another example of the Tories doing favours for their property developer mates,” the shadow housing secretary said.

“Meanwhile, our climate change targets are urgent, and there are millions of existing homes which need insulation and energy efficiency.”

Johnson revealed that a new “policy paper” would be produced next month setting out comprehensive reform of England’s seven-decade old planning system, “to introduce a new approach that works better for our modern economy and society”.

Tom Fyans, policy and campaigns director at CPRE, the countryside charity, said deregulating planning and cutting up red tape would not deliver better quality housing.

“Our research has shown that three quarters of large housing developments are mediocre or poor in terms of their design and should not have been granted planning permission. Transferring decision making power from local councils and communities and handing them to developers is the exact opposite of building back better,” he said.

“The best way to deliver the places that we need, at the pace we need them, is to make it easier for local councils to get local plans in place, and then to hold developers to those plans. We need to make sure the voices of local communities are strengthened in shaping the homes and places that they will inherit.”

Is Boris the modern-day FDR? Not really.

The PM is not expected to set out a new approach to managing the British economy or to abandon the fixation with endless growth in favour of focusing on health and well-being.

Boris Johnson says he’ll tear up planning regulations in a bid to help Britain build its way out of the coronavirus crisis.

The Prime Minister will change the rules to allow commercial properties including office blocks to be converted into flats more easily.

But the move follows “horror stories” about tiny, cramped homes being created through office conversions – some less than 14 square metres.

Last year homelessness charity Shelter highlighted a property in Balham, South London – where a developer submitted an application to turn a two storey building into 26 ‘flats’.

Some of the homes shared an industrial skylight – but had no windows looking outwards.

Another building in Ilford was converted into 60 flats – with 42 of them described as “double studios” – but started at under 15 square metres.

And a converted block in Harlow was described as a “human warehouse” in a BBC report last year.

Changes to planning laws gave developers the power to turn offices into residential premises without seeking permission from local planning officers.

Unless there are demonstrable concerns about issues such as flooding or contamination, local councils have no power to stop them.

But the PM wants to make it even easier promising to “scythe through red tape and get things done.”

He added: “Time is money – and the newt-counting delays in our system are a massive drag on the productivity and and the prosperity of our country.”

In his speech, Mr Johnson announced more buildings will be allowed to be converted into residential properties without applying for planning permission.

Builders will no longer be required to seek permission to demolish and rebuild vacant buildings, as long as they are rebuilt as homes.

And property owners will be able to ‘fast track’ approval to build upwards, above their properties – subject to “neighbour consultation.”

Number 10 say the new rules are planned to be in place by September, and will require a change in the law.

Lib Dem leadership candidate Layla Moran said: “The Tories are creating the homes but driving out employment, which is perverse, and it just means you are getting terribly unbalanced development, yet again.”

Here’s what else he promised in his speech

He pledged £5bn on capital investment projects, supporting jobs and economic recovery this financial year.

In comparison, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced £640bn of gross capital investment in the UK’s roads, railways, schools, hospitals and power networks over the next five years at the Budget in March.

The furlough scheme has already cost £22.9bn and the three main Covid-19 loan schemes for businesses have already cost more than £40bn.

Breakdown of the £5bn promises in full

  • ‘£1.5bn this year for hospital maintenance’ including to scrap mental health dorms and improve A&E capacity.
  • ‘£100m this year for 29 road network projects’ including bridge repairs in Sandwell, the A15 in the Humber and £10m for “development work” to unblock the Manchester rail bottleneck.
  • £1bn to fund first 50 projects in a ten-year school rebuilding programme .
  • ‘£560m and £200m for repairs and upgrades to schools and FE colleges respectively this year’.
  • ‘£142m for digital upgrades and maintenance to around 100 courts this year’
  • ‘£83m for maintenance of prisons’
  • ‘£60m for temporary prison places’
  • ‘£900m for a range of ‘shovel ready’ local growth projects in England over the course of this year and next’
  • ‘£96m for the Towns Fund this year’ – between £500,000 to £1m for each of the 101 towns selected for town deals with £500k-£1m to spend on projects such as improvements to parks, high streets, and transport.
  • ‘Further projects to be announced in due course’

Lockdown changes in England from July 4

What have we yet to hear about?


The £5bn is only a fraction of what the Government has said it wants to invest in infrastructure over the course of this Parliament.

There is little so far on planning and house-building – although we expect to hear more on this on Tuesday.

There is an urgent need for more focus on employment.

What about jobs?

With unemployment at a its highest level in a generation and the UK suffering the worst economic hit of all industrialised nations, it is essential the PM prioritises a plan for jobs.

It needs to include concrete action preventing further job losses and supporting future employment.

Labour leader Keir Starmer warned the country faced unemployment “the likes of which we haven’t seen for a generation” unless the Government acted urgently.

He called on the PM to introduce an emergency July budget as part of its “duty” to the thousands of people who have already lost their jobs amid the crisis.

Is it enough?

It’s an important start but many will argue that the £5bn doesn’t go far enough.

Of the money announced, £1bn has already been allocated to a ten-year schools rebuilding programme.

But the first projects will only start spadework in September 2021 and headteachers warn that there is a £6.7bn repairs backlog in England.

Another £1.5billion to be allocated this year to hospital maintenance – even though official figures suggest more than four times that is needed.

The PM may have more announcements up his sleeve but if not, critics will argue that he has failed to understand the size and the scale of the targeted investment needed at this pivotal moment.

Is he the modern-day FDR?

Not really.

As well as stimulating the economy after the Great Depression, FDR rewrote the economic rules of the US.

The PM is not expected to set out a new approach to managing the British economy or to abandon the fixation with endless growth in favour of focusing on health and well-being.

Hoping to boost the economy, UK PM Johnson unveils new planning rules

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled new planning rules on Tuesday to boost the number of homes and allow commercial premises to be repurposed more easily, part of a package to spur the coronavirus-hit economy. 

Johnson, whose popularity has flagged over his government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, earlier promised to fast track 5-billion pound ($6.14 billion) of infrastructure spending to jump start the economy, which has been largely shut for three months.

Returning to the promises he made at last year’s election, he is targeting much of the spending at those areas in northern and central England, where many traditionally opposition Labour-supporters voted for the governing Conservatives.

The new planning regulations will give greater freedom for buildings and land in town centres to change use without planning permission and create new homes from vacant and redundant buildings.

The changes, which are planned to come into effect by September through changes to the law, include:

— More types of commercial premises having total flexibility to be repurposed through reform of the Use Classes Order.

— A building used for retail, for instance, would be able to be permanently used as a café or office without requiring a planning application and local authority approval.

— Pubs, libraries, village shops and other types of uses essential to communities will not be covered by these flexibilities.

— A wider range of commercial buildings will be allowed to change to residential use without the need for a planning application.

— Builders will no longer need a normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes.

— Property owners will be able to build additional space above their properties via a fast track approval process, subject to neighbour consultation.

— Work will begin to look at how land owned by the government can be managed more effectively.

A temporary one-way system running the entire length of Budleigh Salterton High Street has been backed by town councillors.

A temporary one-way system running the entire length of Budleigh Salterton High Street has been backed by town councillors.

Looks a bold experiment to Owl creating a “Mons Circuit” around the town. Will “conservative” Budleigh be up for it? Perhaps the real problem is the lack of social distancing shown by visitors. Has yet to be agreed by Devon County Council.

 Becca Gliddon
The measure, flowing east to west from Rolle Road to the junction of West Hill and Station Road, aims to  keep shoppers safe and boost social distancing.

It will also see 14 High Street parking spaces, between its Rolle Road and Ragg Lane junctions, removed.

Barriers will be used to widen the south-side pavement from Hays Travel to Top Notch.

Vehicles entering the town from West Hill will be diverted along Station Road and Upper Stoneborough Lane and then onto East Budleigh Road, Coastguard Road, Marine Parade and Fore Street.

Traffic entering High Street from side streets such as Cliff Road and The Lawn will only be able to travel in a westerly direction.

High Street traffic will flow one-way, from east to west, from the junction of Rolle Road to the junction of West Hill/Station Road. Image: Budleigh Town Council/Google Maps

High Street traffic will flow one-way, from east to west, from the junction of Rolle Road to the junction of West Hill/Station Road. Image: Budleigh Town Council/Google Maps

More barriers will be installed next to the pavement on the northern side of High Street from the former Royal Mail sorting office to the junction of Station Road.

Town councillors voted eight to two in favour of the Temporary Traffic Regulations Order (TTRO) last night (Monday).

Their plan will be amended with a request to close Cricketfield Lane and Chapel Hill to through-traffic – making it accessible to residents only – and for extra signage.

The proposed scheme will now go back to Devon County Council (DCC) and, once formally approved, would take around a fortnight to implement.

Budleigh Salterton High Street will become one-way.

Budleigh Salterton High Street will become one-way. Image: Town council/Google Maps

The diversion route. Image Budleigh Town Council/Google Maps

The diversion route. Image: Budleigh Town Council/Google Maps

A one-way system has been devised as town councillors feel it will ‘allow for a safe reopening of the High Street to residents and visitors’.

District councillor Tom Wright told last night’s meeting the scheme was ‘for the greater good’ – the safety of pedestrians.

“We have to accept we are going to inconvenience some people,” he said.

“It’s not going to be acceptable to everyone.”

Councillor Penny Lewis said: “I’m disappointed that people think a one-way system is the first aim and not to widen pavements.

“We are slow of the mark and it [High Street] isn’t a safe place at the moment.

“I would love to magic a wider High Street, but it isn’t possible.

“What we’re trying to do is get wider pavements so people can move along High Street and use the shops safely.

“It’s not to impose a one-way system, it’s to get wider pavements.”

The view from the traffic lights in Station road.

A mock-up of the view from the traffic lights in Station road. Image: Town council/Google Maps

The view from the traffic lights looking towards High Street.

The view from the traffic lights looking towards High Street. Image: Town council/Google Maps

Where barriers will be placed in High Street.

Where barriers will be placed in High Street. Image: Town council/Google Maps

Where parking will be suspended in High Street.

Where parking will be suspended in High Street.Image: Town council/Google Maps

“It is to create a safer shopping environment in the town,” said Cllr Henry Riddell.

He added that procrastinating over the cost and other elements ‘is not going to cut it for someone who has been hit by a car’.

District councillor Alan Dent added: “This is about safety of pedestrians.

“I believe this is going to improve the shopping experience for people – whether residents or visitors – and in the long-term will be of benefit to the traders in the High Street.”

He warned that ‘Coivd-19 has not gone away’ with an ‘influx of visitors’ set to head to the area.

Budleigh Town Council will review the TTRO in three months and will ask for it to be removed if social distancing restrictions end sooner than this.

The view of High Street from The Lawn.

A mock-up of the view of High Street from The Lawn. Image: Town council/Google Maps

The view from The Lawn looking towards West Hill.

The view from The Lawn looking towards West Hill. Image: Town council/Google Maps

A report by town clerk Jo Vanstone said social distancing has seen pedestrians have to walk in the road – posing a danger to them and motorists.

Her report adds: “The town council would like to encourage visitors and residents to use its High Street by showing that Budleigh Salterton is safe to visit whilst still allowing shoppers to follow social distancing restrictions.

“Members feel that by allowing more space for people to walk freely and browse, it will be a more enjoyable atmosphere with the knock-on effect of helping the town’s traders.”

The council has worked with Devon highways officers, district and county representatives and held talks with the chamber of commerce on finding a solution.

Councillors believe that the loss of some on-street parking in High Street will be ‘cancelled out’ by the 123 free and 505 pay-and-display spaces across the town’s five car parks.

“Safety of all those wishing to shop in the town is the main purpose of this system and if at any time the situation changes in the future the town council will review the situation to see if the one-way system can be lifted or changed,” the report adds.

Ragg Lane looking towards Brook Road.

A mock-up of Ragg Lane looking towards Brook Road. Image: Budleigh Town Council/Google Maps

The view of High Street from Cliff Road.

The view of High Street from Cliff Road. Image: Budleigh Town Council/Google Maps

Last night’s meeting heard concern from one resident that Chapel Hill and Cricketfield Lane would be used as a shortcut to the High Street by delivery vehicles.

She said the scheme was unintentionally ‘protecting one set of pedestrians while putting a different set elsewhere at risk’.

Dad-of-two Tom Dixon asked for a pedestrian crossing to be installed in Upper Stoneborough Lane and expressed concern about ‘general safety’ with more vehicles using the road.

“Cars come winging down that road often in excess of 30mph,” he said.

His request will not be included in the one-way scheme, but will be considered at a later date by the council’s traffic group.

Cyclists will have to observe the one-way system.

Popular Cornish holiday towns to ban cars this summer to help social distancing

TOURIST hotspots across Cornwall will ban cars and close roads this summer to allow visitors to social distance. Will this be needed in Devon?

Kara Godfrey 

St Ives, along with areas in Falmouth and Truro, are just some of the locations introducing new measures ahead of the holiday season.

Falmouth has already closed a number of streets in the busy town centre for a set number of hours since June 15, along with Truro, following the announcement that non-essential shops could open.

Truro Mayor Bert Biscoe said he hoped that it would allow locals to return as well as “encourage others to come,” according to the Telegraph.

Closing the roads will allow visitors more room to visit the region, with many of the small towns having narrow pathways and thin streets which often become overcrowded during peak holiday seasons.

St Ives looks to be the next tourist town to follow in their footsteps, after new plans introduced by the town council to stop road traffic between 11am and 4pm from today.

The road closures will be marshalled, while permits will be issued for certain cases and emergency services can continue to drive through. Deliveries will have to operate at the beginning or end of the day.

St Ives Town Council and the St Ives Business Improvement District (BID) Helen Tripconey told local media that the measures were “temporary” until things returned to normal.

Ron Johns, who owns a bookshop in St Ives, said he had “no idea” it it would work but was needed as the “streets are very narrow in Cornwall”.

It comes after Boris Johnson announced that Britain’s 2m social distancing rule would be reduced to 1m+ in places where 2m was not possible.

Locals fear that without the new measures, a situation similar to Bournemouth beach could happen.

Last week, tens of thousands of Brits descended to Bournemouth as temperatures soured, with little social distancing and tons of litter left behind.

Roads were blocked and emergency services were unable to get through to the beach after a major alert was declared.

Visit Cornwall’s Malcom Bell said they were “fully in support of traffic restrictions” across the region, adding: “It provides a step change in the space available for local and visitors to access and enjoy our wonderful towns.”

Other areas in the UK such as Norfolk, Oxford, Cambridge and Whitby are also looking at closing a number of roads in the busy towns and cities as well.

Mr Bell previously said that Cornwall would allow tourists to social distance due to the large number of beaches compared to the rest of the country.

He said, according to Cornwall Live: “We are in a fortunate position due to our location, with the number of beaches we’ve got and with the right information we should avoid the Brighton, Southend and Bournemouth problem, which is sheer volume and lack of beaches.”

A holiday to Cornwall is likely to be very different compared to previous years, he added.

He told Sun Online Travel: “The bulk of popular attractions will be doing timed ticketing and all restaurants will be doing reservations.

“We need to also avoid people turning up and queuing at places, so for takeaway food like fish and chips, people will need to order their food online and then wait to be told when to collect it.”

Used tampons and human poo dumped on Exmouth beach

Members from ‘Plastic Free Exmouth‘ (PFE), as well as independent volunteers, all clubbed together in order to remove the waste that had been discarded along the seafront following the busy crowds which gathered in Exmouth last week.

Chloe Parkman

Bottles, beers cans, used sanitary products and even human faeces are among many other things that were discovered by volunteers who carried out a beach clean in Exmouth yesterday (June 28).

Members from ‘Plastic Free Exmouth‘ (PFE), as well as independent volunteers, all clubbed together in order to remove the waste that had been discarded along the seafront following the busy crowds which gathered in Exmouth last week.

Following the discovery of human faeces, PFE member Lucy Oakes-Ash, 33 said: “If you know you are going out to the beach for the day and there is no toilets, take a doggy bag and dispose of it. There is no excuse.”

East Devon District Council (EDDC) who are regularly emptying the bins were also present at Orcombe Point.

Used sanitary products (Image: Transition Exmouth)

Lucy said: “This all came about following the warm weather which encouraged people to go to the beach.

“People from the Plastic Free Exmouth team went down on Friday morning (June 26) originally.

“They cleaned up huge volumes of rubbish and waste, the Council were also there, they’re doing a great job.”

Non-profit organisation, Plastic Free Exmouth, is an active group who work with Exmouth Council, businesses, schools, and individuals to gain certification for a Plastic Free Community with Surfers Against Sewage.

Following their beach clean on Friday, the group posted images and details of their discoveries onto social media which generated a huge response.

The organisation then arranged another beach clean which was to take place on Sunday, June 28, at around 7:30am.

Lucy adds: “The David Attenborough effect had been reduced but this bought it back into the public eye.

Overflowing bins in Exmouth (Image: Jamie Forster)

“A group of us met yesterday (June 28) completely independent of one another.”

With many members of the team conducting the clean on the beach itself, Lucy decided to venture into the shrubbery behind the beach to see if there was anything buried in the trees and so on.

She said: “The main thing we found was bottles and cans.

“Both of those things are so easily recyclable. You could see they had been so obviously thrown into the hedge.”

Despite much of the waste being relatively new, Lucy stresses that a large number of the bottles, cans and so forth had been there for quite some time.

She adds: “When some people blame the youths of today throwing their rubbish away, this wasn’t new stuff we were finding.

“We had to basically dig one bottle out as it had been buried for quite some time.”

However, the worst discovery was yet to come for Lucy.

As she made her way up the “zig zag” path behind the beach, Lucy checked behind one of the benches to see if anything had been discarded only to discover a “whole load of used tampons.”

“It made me feel very sick.

“We safely removed them using gloves, a litter picker and bags.”

The rubbish was dumped around the bin provided (Image: Jamie Forster)

On top of this, the volunteers discovered human poo which had been dumped in the hedges behind the bins at Orcombe Point.

Lucy adds: “It looked relatively fresh.

“The toilets are open by the Lifeboat Station which are only around 200 yards away.

“I have two young children and when they tell me they need to go to the loo whilst on the beach we walk that little bit further in order to use the facilities.

“There is no excuse in my mind.”

Over 20 seagulls were spotted snacking on the rubbish (Image: Alison Laxton)

Despite the heaps of litter that have been dumped along Exmouth seafront over the last week, Lucy adds: “The Council have been doing an amazing job the whole way through.

Plastic Free Exmouth have now arranged in informal beach clean which is due to take place every Sunday morning at 7:30am.

“We don’t want Exmouth painted in a bad light, it’s an absolutely beautiful beach.

A beach mat was spotted hanging out of the bin (Image: Jamie Forster)

“If we make this informal beach clean a regular thing we will stay on top of it and keep it as pristine and beautiful as possible.”

For those who wish to join in on the Sunday Morning beach clean, must ensure that they arrive at Orcombe Point with all of the appropriate equipment such as a litter picker, gloves, and bags (reusable if possible).

For further information visit Plastic Free Exmouth here.