UK’s first coronavirus contact-tracing group warns of difficulties

A group of retired doctors who set up the UK’s first Covid-19 contact-tracing scheme has warned that the government system faces major challenges after they struggled to persuade health and care workers to self-isolate.

Sarah Boseley www.theguardian.com 

Dr Bing Jones, a retired Sheffield GP, helped start the group a month ago out of frustration that contact tracing had been abandoned in England. “We sat down and thought: this is a major omission – a schoolboy error. We have got one of the biggest crises you can possibly imagine and one of the major building blocks of the public health management of an epidemic is not being done,” he said.

They were surprised to find that most contacts of people with Covid-19 were workers from the NHS, care homes or care provider agencies – and that those people were not always happy to stop work and go into isolation for seven to 14 days. “The majority were in health and care settings. That’s the really big and worrying message here,” said Jones.

The group set up its pilot project in Sheffield, using volunteers who called up people with Covid-19 referred to them by GPs. The volunteers offered support and asked for the names and numbers of anyone the patient had spent more than 15 minutes with in an enclosed space.

Their early report of what happened – with 13 people who had Covid-19 and 58 of their contacts – paints a worrying picture. People were unwilling to let them have details or the volunteers were unable to reach 39 of the 58. In 29 cases, those were care workers.

“You talk to somebody and they will sometimes give you the names of their fellow cleaners or kitchen staff in a care home, but as soon as they start talking to each other they think, well we’d better talk to our manager, and the manager says oh no – you’d better not do this,” said Jones.

“And the fact is that in all of these care settings but also in the NHS, there is no culture for contact tracing. There’s also no culture of self-isolation.

“The emotional side of this is me listening to our volunteers every night saying: ‘I have got all this information, I’ve tried to get in touch with the helper at the care home and then the shutters come down. I got in touch with the trust – the teaching hospital trust – and bang, the shutters come down.’”

He added: “We’re talking here about a major problem and a major deficiency particularly around health and care workers. My analogy is that health and care workers are unwittingly acting as the vectors of this … spread.”

The group’s volunteers had the authority of GP practices and a well-respected community development organisation yet were unable to convince people to self-isolate. Jones thinks the government scheme – due to be up and running by 1 June staffed by 25,000 contact tracers, most of them call handlers with a script and minimal training – will fare no better.

“I feel sad to have to say this but the whole way that this is unfolding – I have no confidence in the government. The app has failed, they’ve failed in their testing, on their PPE. I wouldn’t put any money on their sorting out this contact tracing,” Jones said.

The spreading of infection through health and care workers was predictable, he said, and identified in a study in the town of Vo’ in Italy.

He said: “Why does it take a group of retired doctors to come up with this? It is fatuous that people haven’t twigged that in the care home setting it is quite obvious – there is very little expertise, very little money, no reserve of staffing, so it’s inevitable that people will be moving around within and between care homes. A lot of care homes are run by big firms and what else are they to do?”

In an ideal world, contact tracing would be done by environmental health workers, as for previous outbreaks of infectious diseases, he said.

“If you had meningococcal meningitis, a sexually transmitted disease, TB… that’s the established system. You would be backed up by the law, by the environmental health officers who have absolute authority, but also you would have the incentive to comply because if your child had meningitis, they would get antibiotics and get better.

“Whereas here, everything is reversed – there’s no real incentive to self-isolate, particularly as everybody’s keenness wears off… So there’s a disincentive.

“I personally think our volunteers are probably in a better position than these minimum-wage … employees are going to be. Maybe the government will employ really top-notch people who will have loads of authority, time, energy and insight and they will be able to sort this out, but I’m sceptical.

“Certainly the way that they seem to be trained, the way the government is rushing, the way that generally the performance of these companies have been operating in other arenas, I don’t think it’s going to work.”

The group hopes lessons can be learned from the pilot project, and its work continues. It has trained 25 more volunteers and is expanding its reach further into Sheffield and Calderdale, West Yorkshire

9,900 new COVID cases across England daily – New estimates from symptom tracker

This new figure for England is over three times greater than the ONS figure for the whole UK of circa 3,000 daily confirmed cases . The latter, of course, is limited to the availability of testing and the fact that it also relies on individuals coming forward to seek tests. Remember the mantra “Most will only get a mild form of the disease”. The novel Covid-19 is associated with a wider range of symptoms than high fever and cough.

Tim Spector has released new work in which his symptom estimates have been combined with targeted swab testing, provided by Department of Health and Social Care, to give an estimate of Covid-19 infection rates. Estimates are not only given Nationally but for English Regions.

Surprisingly, this work has to rely on crowd funding to continue . This has raised £860K so far against a target of £1M. A case of “Not Invented Here” as far as Public Health England is concerned?

Owl has always taken the view that this work was providing the most useful estimates of the distribution and progress of the pandemic in UK. For example, it showed that infection rates started falling around 1 April. Government data at that time was inconsistent and confined to measuring hospital admissions. Admissions of serious cases lag initial infections by at least 8 days. Government data is still lagging because most test turnarounds take days.

Tim Spector’s work shows that the South West has a marginally lower infection rate than London, this is not the received wisdom in Whitehall. The online article contains more information and acknowledgements than given below. Skip the explanation of the method to the end if you just want the results.

covid.joinzoe.com /post/covid-cases-england

By combining COVID swab testing with data from the COVID Symptom Study app, we are able to estimate the number of new daily COVID cases within the community

Data from the COVID Symptom Study suggests there are currently 9,900 daily new cases of COVID across England.

This excludes care homes [*] and asymptomatic cases. These results are based on a group of 980,000 people using our app, of whom 18,000 were invited to do COVID swab tests after showing early signs of coronavirus infection. These tests were provided by the Department of Health and Social Care, either via a self-administered home test kit or regional testing centres.

Developed by health technology company ZOE, the COVID Symptom Study app now has more than 3.6 million users across the UK, US and Sweden, making it the largest ongoing coronavirus study in the world.

All areas of England are seeing new cases, but levels in the North are around twice those in the South. These figures give an up to date view of COVID infection rates, unlike deaths which lag by about a month.

How we are calculating these figures

The figure of 9,900 was calculated using swab testing and app symptom data collected over the last two weeks (2-15 May), from users of all ages and spread throughout England. This makes it the first time that digital health data from a very large population has been combined with physical COVID swab tests to create an accurate view of what COVID looks like in the population on a day-by-day basis.

These results were based on 980,000 people contributing digitally of whom 18,000 received rapid testing for COVID infection in the two weeks from 2-15 May. Those invited for testing include individuals using our app who have reported being healthy for at least nine days before they log new symptoms for the first time. We have aggregated these two weeks in order to get a large enough population to allow us to estimate regional variations, as well as overall levels in England.

Facilitating a safe exit from lockdown

The ability to accurately estimate the number of new daily COVID cases within the community via technology can be a critical part of the UK’s fight against COVID, alongside ONS surveys that report weekly or monthly based on random swab testing or changes in antibody testing.

With all eyes on “r”, it is critical that the number of daily new cases does not rise as we ease out of lockdown. The COVID Symptom Study enables over 3 million people to contribute, and so provides a more current picture of how the COVID situation is changing. It can also highlight regional differences and show potential increases in the virus before other detection methods.

Daily new cases across England

The map below shows the rates across the different regions of England. The data for each region is presented as a range, because the absolute infection rates are now low. These estimates show a two fold difference between North and South, but should be treated with caution as the number of actual cases is relatively small.

We do not yet have sufficient numbers to estimate Northern Ireland, and Wales and Scotland have not yet joined the COVID testing scheme, but we hope to extend testing to those nations shortly.

The daily new cases estimate does not account for those in the population who are asymptomatic (i.e. show no symptoms but can still spread the virus), as we cannot detect these cases by those reporting their health using the app. These figures also exclude care homes as there is not enough data from the app to estimate this population at this point.

Daily new cases of COVID-19 in England between 2-15 May

Notes

[*] This analysis requires swab testing, which was kindly provided by the English Department of Health and Social Care. The results do not currently include Wales & Scotland as they are not currently participating in this study, but ZOE hopes to extend testing to those nations shortly.  Testing is happening in Northern Ireland, but the number of participants is too few to generate an accurate estimate. These figures exclude care homes as there is not enough data from the app to estimate this population.

The regional breakdown of daily new cases per 1M people is:

  • England overall: 156-199
  • South East: 101-176
  • London: 88-179
  • Midlands: 169-310
  • East of England: 109-224
  • South West: 71-172
  • North East and Yorkshire: 157-304
  • North West: 217-412

The regional breakdown of total daily new cases is:

  • England overall: 8700-11100
  • South East: 900-1600
  • London: 800-1600
  • Midlands: 1800-3300
  • East of England: 700-1500
  • South West: 400-1000
  • North East and Yorkshire: 1300-2600
  • North West: 1500-2900

 

One rule for the plebs and proles, another set for the Imperator and Patricians in No 10

Owl thought to please Boris with a classical reference to the way he governs.

Now we learn Dominic Cummings is the latest to have more houses than the rest of us to run to when the going gets tough.

The “Torygraph” isn’t happy, neither is Owl.

By Gordon Rayner, Political Editor 23 May 2020 www.telegraph.co.uk 
Dominic Cummings facing calls to be sacked after breaching lockdown rules

Boris Johnson faced calls to sack his chief aide Dominic Cummings after it emerged he was investigated by police after breaching lockdown rules.

Mr Cummings drove from London to Durham with his wife and son to stay with his elderly parents after developing symptoms of coronavirus.

Downing Street said at the time that Mr Cummings was “at home” in isolation, when in fact he was more than 260 miles away.

Police in Durham were tipped off by a member of the public about Mr Cummings’ presence at his parents’ house and explained to the family that lockdown rules – imposed by Mr Johnson days earlier – outlawed such visits.

Opposition parties said Mr Cummings’s position was “completely untenable” and that Mr Johnson now faced a “test of leadership” over the matter, with even Government ministers questioning whether Mr Cummings could now stay in his role.

However, Mr Johnson appeared ready to stand by his long-time ally, with Government sources insisting Mr Cummings and his wife, who was also ill, had taken “what they believed to be the right decision in the interests of their young child”.

Earlier this month Prof Neil Ferguson quit his role as a government scientific adviser after The Telegraph disclosed that he had broken lockdown rules to meet his mistress.

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said at the time that Prof Ferguson’s behaviour had left him “speechless”. Mr Cummings attends meetings of the advisory group from which Prof Ferguson resigned.

The revelation that Mr Cummings broke the Government’s lockdown rules raises serious questions both for him and for Downing Street, which gave journalists the clear impression he was in London despite repeated questions about his whereabouts.

One minister said: “He’s going to have to go. It’s just arrogance.” Another minister said it was “hard to see how [Mr Cummings] can stay based on what we know”.

The minister added: “How can any minister ask the public to obey the rules when the adviser closest to the Prime Minister so flagrantly ignores them?”

Mr Cummings, 48, developed coronavirus symptoms at the end of March and had to self-isolate with his wife Mary Wakefield and their young son for 14 days.

On March 31 the Prime Minister’s official spokesman was asked where Mr Cummings was, and said: “I think he’s in touch with No10 but he is at home, he is self-isolating, he has some symptoms.” 

In fact, he was in Durham at the time, not at his home in London, as police made clear in a statement following an investigation by the Guardian and Mirror newspapers.

A spokesman for Durham Constabulary said: “On Tuesday, March 31, our officers were made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city.

“Officers made contact with the owners of that address who confirmed that the individual in question was present and was self-isolating in part of the house.

“In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the guidelines around self-isolation and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel”.

Ms Wakefield later wrote about how the couple had “emerged from quarantine into the almost comical uncertainty of London lockdown”.

According to the Guardian, Mr Cummings was also spotted near the gate of his parents’ home on April 5, five days after the initial complaint to police and the same day that the Prime Minister was admitted to hospital.

The witness, told the Guardian: “I was really annoyed. I thought ‘it’s OK for you to drive all the way up to Durham and escape from London’. I sympathise with him wanting to do that, but other people are not allowed to do that. It’s one rule for Dominic Cummings and one rule for the rest of us.”

At the time, the Government rules on lockdown stated: “You should not be visiting family members who do not live in your home. 

“The only exception is if they need help, such as having shopping or medication dropped off.”

Prof Ferguson is not the only government adviser to resign for breaking lockdown. Scotland’s chief medical officer, Catherine Calderwood, quit her role after making two trips to her second home.

But Sir Ed Davey, the acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, said millions of people had made “incredible sacrifices” to stop the spread of the virus, adding: “If Dominic Cummings has broken the guidelines he will have to resign, it is as simple as that.”

Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said: “Dominic Cummings’ position is completely untenable – he must resign or be sacked.”

A Labour Party spokesman said: “If accurate, the Prime Minister’s chief adviser appears to have breached the lockdown rules. The Government’s guidance was very clear: stay at home and no non-essential travel.

“The British people do not expect there to be one rule for them and another rule for Dominic Cummings. Number 10 needs to provide a very swift explanation for his actions.”

As news of Mr Cummings’ transgression broke last night, Mr Johnson tweeted a message which said: “Self-isolate and get tested if you have symptoms. Don’t risk spreading the virus.”

Downing Street was approached for comment.

Boris to get his old job back?

We have “three houses” Robert Jenrick and now we could have “two jobs” Boris as No 10 seeks to take control of lifting lockdown in London.

Confirms Owl’s view that this country is ruled by London for London.

By Gordon Rayner, Political Editor 22 May 2020 www.telegraph.co.uk 
London could see coronavirus lockdown lifted earlier as Number 10 moves to take control of process

London could come out of lockdown “quicker” than other parts of the country after Boris Johnson moved to take over control of the capital’s coronavirus response from its Mayor, Sadiq Khan.

A task force has been set up to “restart” London’s economy and will be jointly chaired by Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary, and Mr Khan.

It is the first time the Government has set up a separate body to oversee lockdown measures in a specific part of the country, suggesting that Mr Johnson is moving to a “London first” approach to easing restrictions.

London has a lower rate of virus infection than other parts of the country and, with the south-east region, accounts for 40 per cent of GDP – making it vital to economic recovery.

The most recent figures also show that, on some days, the city is recording no new cases of the virus.

Asked whether London would come out of lockdown first, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Without talking about a specific part of the country, what is clear in the plans is that, as we are able to gather more data and have better surveillance of the rate of infection in different parts of the country, we will be able to potentially lift measures quicker in some parts of the country than others.

“We will also be able to put the brakes on more quickly in some parts of the country than others.”

Mr Jenrick announced that he will jointly chair a London Transition Board with Mr Khan, which will “co-ordinate London’s response as it emerges from the lockdown and begins to reopen its economy while controlling the virus”.

The Government has, until now, been at pains to say that the country will come out of lockdown as a single entity – but Mr Jenrick’s announcement contained no mention of the rest of the country, suggesting a significant shift.

Mr Khan has been involved in a power struggle with Number 10, with Mr Johnson increasingly getting the upper hand over the man occupying the office he used to hold.

The Mayor was accused of mismanaging the finances of Transport for London after being given a £1.6 billion emergency bailout by the Government to keep Tubes and buses running, and had to agree to increase fares as a condition of being given the money.

Mr Jenrick said: “Now we are past the peak, [of coronavirus] it is right that we focus on safely reopening the capital, taking the necessary steps to control the virus.  

“Through this new Transition Board, we will carefully build on the extensive planning already under way to get life and business in London – the most dynamic capital city in the world – safely back on track.”

The task force will oversee infection control, “phasing in and out of varying levels of lockdown” and “recovery of public services, such as transport”.

Coronavirus: Sunseekers ‘could return lockdown to square one’

Owl has been receiving reports that Exmouth beach was heaving with cars and people on Wednesday and Thursday in particular. Car Parks full, many camper vans with occupants making breakfast on the pavements, social distancing difficult etc. This is echoed in the following article from the Times.

Owl regards Tim Spector’s Covid-19 symptom tracker project as the “canary in the cage”. It uses a statistical filter of reported symptoms as a proxy measure of infection.

Its advantages are that it is based on a phone app and is therefore instantaneous; has a national sample size of over 3 million participants; and, most importantly, it is consistent. I.e. will tell us whether infection rates locally are going up or down around a week or two before anything the Government publishes. At the moment they are static. Owl will report soon on exciting new developments with this work.

Fiona Hamilton, Crime Editor | Harry Shukman | Charlotte Wace www.thetimes.co.uk 

Matt Hancock last night warned [Thursday] of the risk of returning to “square one” of the coronavirus lockdown as police chiefs said people were becoming blase about social distancing.

As thousands took advantage of glorious weather by flocking to beaches and beauty spots around the country, the health secretary called on the public to renew their efforts to stick to the rules. He added: “Let’s not go back to square one. We can all play our part in the national effort.”

His comments at the Downing Street press conference were echoed by senior police who said that the guidance to stay two metres apart, and meet only one other person, was being routinely ignored since the slight easing of the lockdown rules.

One chief constable told The Times: “I think people no longer understand what they can do, or they think it is no longer important.”

Another senior officer said there was “no doubt at all” that public resolve had weakened and that the guidance around meeting one person outside the household was “forgotten shortly after the words were spoken”.

In Newquay, Cornwall, police patrolled caravan sites and woke up visitors in campervans at 6am for breaching lockdown by staying overnight at the tourist hotspot. Councils closed car parks at other beaches around the country when thousands of people arrived to relax in the sunshine.

Colin Cox, Cumbria’s public health director, advised the public to stay away from the Lake District. “I continue to urge people to keep their Lake District plans on hold as we grapple with the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak in the county,” he said. “I understand that people may feel their individual visit won’t cause a problem, but when thousands of people have the same idea then that has the potential to create genuine issues.”

The authorities’ fears of a second spike of coronavirus infection have been heightened by the coming bank holiday weekend and forecasts of warm weather.

Half term begins tomorrow, meaning that many families, freed from the constraints of homeschooling, will be tempted outdoors, and to staycations. Ramadan also comes to an end this weekend and Mr Hancock said: “I hope people can enjoy Eid celebrations but I know they’ll be different from usual.”

His intervention came as a new survey revealed that more than half of under thirties are no longer sticking strictly to the lockdown rules.

Researchers who questioned more than 90,000 adults found that “complete” compliance with safety measures has dropped in the past two weeks from an average of 70 per cent of people to under 60 per cent. The University College London (UCL) study found compliance among young adults at less than 50 per cent.

Police have already warned that relaxed lockdown rules are “unenforceable” because people have many more reasons to be out and about. They voiced alarm at the large numbers of people appearing to gather in groups at beauty spots.

Ilfracombe and Braunton police said on Twitter that roads towards the North Devon coast had become “gridlocked”, adding: “We have vehicles from all over the country identified, please do not travel here.”

Southend, which like many seaside towns launched a “don’t visit” campaign, saw hundreds of people descend on its beaches to swim and sunbathe.

Fairy Glen, a popular beauty spot in Lancashire, was closed earlier this week after a flood of people visited over the weekend. Despite the warning, police confirmed that a number of parking fines had been handed to people parking “irresponsibly” and “causing a danger”.

Police have already fined more than 14,000 people for lockdown breaches but enforcement has “fallen off a cliff” since the guidance was eased, sources said.

Katy Bourne, chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said that the public flocking to beaches presented a difficulty for officers because they were not breaching the law.

She said: “There are no powers available to police that stop people from visiting the beach or beauty spots. Going into the lockdown was a shock to our system but coming out was always going to be the challenge.

“The police are only there to uphold the law. They’re not out holding tape measures, that’s not the police’s job to do. The police aren’t there though to enforce social distancing because the law doesn’t allow it. We are asking people to be socially responsible.”

Despite the public’s increasingly blasé attitude towards the lockdown measures, a survey has shown that the spring bank holiday is set to be the quietest on the roads in at least seven years.

A poll conducted by the RAC indicates that 9.4 million leisure journeys will be made by car between Saturday and Monday, compared with 16.8 million over the same period last year.

About 68 per cent of the 1,500 drivers questioned do not expect to drive for recreational purposes this weekend, while 15 per cent said that they did not plan on driving more than ten miles for leisure.

“This weekend will be anything but a traditional sunny bank holiday weekend, and in fact nationally it could turn out to be the quietest on the motorways and major roads ever,” Rod Dennis, a spokesman for the RAC, said. “While it’s true that some car parks in popular locations were quick to fill up last weekend, it was positive to see that many of the fears around people swarming to tourist destinations thankfully didn’t translate into widespread problems.”

“Independent” Councillor to Tory Councillor to Advocate for “Build,build,build”

Owl has been struck by the strength of Cllr. Helen Parr’s advocacy for “build, build, build” in the three major planning applications Owl has featured this week. (Extracts from the posts below)

This is a cautionary tale for those in the rump of Ben Ingham’s group who are genuinely Independent. They should urgently consider the need to differentiate themselves from any closet Conservative Independents in the group.

Helen Parr was first elected in 2003 as an “Independent” Councillor for Coly Valley and topped the poll, but by the next election in 2007 she had morphed into a Conservative. In retrospect we can all see why.

She is obviously seen as “sound” on local Conservative development policy (which is the very opposite of conservative with a small “c”) as her preferments include Chairman of the Development Management Committee (DMC).

She is, ironically, “Lead Member for Planning Design and Heritage” in what was Ben Ingham’s “Independent” led Council until he resigned himself and his cabinet last Monday.

Three examples of blind advocacy

Daisymount McDonald’s drive-thru and service station – rejected

(A previous application on the site had been approved many years ago but never implemented)

Agreeing with the applicant, Cllr Helen Parr said: “While the extant scheme may not be implemented, it could be, and therefore this application is preferable as there is much less landscape impact.

“This is preferable, there will be social and economic benefits, and the harm won’t be there to the wider landscape.”

The committee, however, rejected the scheme on the grounds it would cause ‘significant harm in the open countryside in terms of landscape impact’ and that it was ‘unsustainable’.

They added that only very limited weight should be given to the fallback and previously consented scheme.

Go-ahead for 33 new homes on East Devon and Exeter border

The bid is part of an eight-phase development at Redhayes and Tithebarn Green, close to Exeter Science Park.

Members had previously deferred making a decision on the proposals as they were unhappy that eight ‘affordable’ homes would be ‘stuck in the corner’

Council policy says that such properties should be ‘pepper-potted’ across a development.

The DMC were told that the applicant was not prepared to amend the layout as it considered it reflected the size of other affordable housing clusters approved on other Redhayes and Mosshayne developments, though the applicant was willing to provide integral bat and bird facilities and hedgehog ‘highways’.

Proposing the scheme be approved, Cllr Helen Parr said that, as other neighbouring developments have similar levels of pepper-potting, it would be unreasonable to make the applicant do it any differently.

The Coly Valley has two district councillors and in the 2019 election Paul Arnott, Independent East Devon Alliance (EDA), beat Helen Parr into second place. Regrettably, Paul was the only independent candidate.

EDA Indys are opposed to inappropriate development and it will not, therefore, come as a surprise that what he said is a contrast.

Councillor Paul Arnott said that, while he was delighted for the bats, birds and hedgehogs, these were ‘tiny wins’.

He added: “This is a game of semantics and a legacy of the terrible deal that was done for the area. This isn’t pepper-potting at all but clustering, so I cannot vote for this.”

Green light for East Devon business park expansion plans

Cllr Helen Parr threw her support behind the scheme and recommended it be approved. She said: “There is extremely strong comments from the economic development officer about this and we must have more small units for people to work. This is a very good application and I have no hesitation in supporting this.”

In contrast Cllr Paul Arnott said: “While I am sympathetic to the need of the economic argument for units in the area, the fact is it is trumped by this not being part of the Local Plan or the Neighbourhood Plan. I am sympathetic to what they want to do but it may have to come back when we have revisited our Local Plan. With regret, I cannot support this.”

Reflections from Old Owl

Old Owl (OO) has been fully retired for six months now and has nothing but praise for New Owl (NO) and no intention of stirring from the bliss of being able to self-isolate from the day-to-day crises that seem to envelop East Devon and, in particular, East Devon District Council.  But OO cannot resist the temptation to say “I warned you” and “I told you so” in equal measure.

Some may recall OO’s warning in May last year that all was not what it seemed with Mr Ingham’s “the Independent Group” (TIG).  In summary, OO maintained that it was neither Independent, nor a Group.  Indeed, OO chose the name “Tigger Tories” to describe a hastily-cobbled together partnership of so-called Independents with their supposed enemies, the much-depleted Tories.  

Rather than form a coalition with the East Devon Alliance and/or Lib Dems, Ingham chose to bring Tories into his fold and offered them plum jobs – such as making Tory and ex-Monster Raving Loony Stewart Hughes Chairman of the Council (that went well, didn’t it!).

Added to this toxic mix were several so-called Independent councillors who, up until just before the election, had espoused completely mainline Tory doctrine and, indeed, were seen almost exclusively in Tory company.  These councillors were (and still are) Independents in name only.

OO said it was a recipe for disaster – and indeed it was!

Now we hear from former East Devon Alliance councillor then Independent Group cabinet member   Geoff Jung (keep up) that what prompted him to defect from Tigger Tories was Ingham’s plans to bring in even more Tories to shore up his crumbling regime.  Jung (who has been an impeccable Cabinet member for the Environment) changed his allegiance (as any honourable Independent Group member should) but, although he says Ingham asked him to stay on in that role, which he agreed to do, only hours later, when the whole Cabinet “resigned” he was told that, in fact, he had just been fired!

So, after Hughes’s disgraceful intervention to save his job and save the Tigger Tories by refusing to call the EDDC Annual Meeting, or indeed any other meeting, prompting Ingham’s downfall – where does that leave us?

A Tory minority

An Independent Group minority

A coalition of at least 4 or 5 different but also vaguely similar groups that make up a +1 majority

Not a recipe for success, as just one or two fence-sitters or sabotagers could bring the whole council down again.

What is the solution?

Well, OO has a radical suggestion!  Those REAL independents still cleaving to Ingham should join whatever the new +1 Alliance calls itself (“The Alliance of Independent East Devon Progesssive Liberal Greens with Stragglers” perhaps!) and form a REAL majority of councillors working together for the benefit of East Devon.

Can it be done?

Owl isn’t sure but surely the thing is to TRY – anything is better than the current mess.

Oh, and where is CEO Mr Williams in all this?  Rather like Boris Johnson, he is conspicuous by his absence (has anyone looked in his office fridge?).  Come on, show yourself, sir – even if it is to show you have every intention of sabotaging the emerging change because it threatens your iron grip – have the courage of your “never change, never explain, never appear at Scrutiny” convictions so we all know where we, and you, stand!

Old Owl is exhausted now and must go for its nap and await the outcome of the meeting to decide whether to have a meeting …. Some things never change!