Tory-linked PR firm granted £3m Covid-19 contract without tender

The political communications company behind the Conservative party’s controversial 2019 digital campaign strategy received a £3m government contract to work on Covid-19 messaging without a competitive tender and is negotiating with the Cabinet Office for more work, the Guardian and openDemocracy can reveal.

Topham Guerin, founded in 2016 by two young New Zealanders, Sean Topham and Ben Guerin, specialises in producing images and videos for social media and has worked for a number of rightwing political parties.

It was behind two Tory election campaign stunts that attracted widespread criticism: renaming the official Conservative party Twitter account “factcheckUK” during the leaders’ debate, and setting up a website presented as Labour’s manifesto.

An investigation by the Guardian and openDemocracy found that on 17 March, shortly before the UK went into lockdown, Topham Guerin was contracted by the Cabinet Office to work on the government’s public communications.

Under emergency Covid-19 regulations that allow the government to ditch usual competitive tendering practices, no tender was conducted to allow other companies to bid for that work. A six-month contract was subsequently formalised on 7 May, with a retrospective 17 March start date, for a total of £3m. The details were not made public until mid-July.

Topham Guerin is the latest Conservative party-linked company known to have received contracts from the government under the emergency procurement rules.

Others include Faculty – an AI company that worked for the prime minister’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, on the Vote Leave campaign in 2016 – and Public First, a policy and research firm owned by two long-term associates of both Cummings and the Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove.

The Topham Guerin contract sets out the high-level responsibilities of the firm, including that its staff will attend daily meetings at Downing Street or the Cabinet Office, lead the branding strategy and produce social media content.

The contract also said the role would include weekly meetings with the British army’s information unit, the 77th Brigade, “to review fake news mitigation efforts and provide recommendations on further actions to take”.

A Cabinet Office spokesman told the Guardian that Topham Guerin had principally been producing social media messages, and that the meetings with the 77th Brigade never took place.

The Guardian has previously reported that Topham and Guerin, who are in their 20s, worked on huge propaganda campaigns for CTF Partners, run by the Tories’ long-term strategist Sir Lynton Crosby, on behalf of clients including major polluters, the Saudi Arabian government and anti-cycling groups.

After its work on the Tory election campaign last year, Topham Guerin took on more staff at its Mayfair office in January and February. Among these appointments was Deborah Feldman, a former Conservative staffer who previously worked for CTF as managing director.

While the £3m contract with Topham Guerin runs until 16 September, the Guardian has learned that the Cabinet Office is negotiating a new contract with the firm. It is not clear what the proposed contract is for, or if it will be tendered competitively. The company did not respond to a question about the new contract, and a Cabinet Office spokesman said it did not comment on ongoing negotiations.

The spokesman said the firm, which started in New Zealand politics and worked on Scott Morrison’s Liberal party election victory in Australia last year, was selected for the Covid-19 contract due to its “wealth of experience in communications”.

“Topham Guerin were awarded a contract to help advise and generate social media content to support coronavirus communications,” the spokesman added. “This has been published on gov.uk in the normal way, in line with transparency rules. This work has helped to ensure that vitally important public health messages are effectively communicated to the public.”

A spokesman for Topham Guerin said the company had provided direction for the Enjoy Summer Safely campaign by the advertising agency Mullenlowe.

“Topham Guerin are proud to have worked with both the New Zealand and UK governments to provide creative and digital support for their all-of-government responses to the Covid-19 crisis,” he said.

The shadow Cabinet Office minister, Rachel Reeves, criticised the awarding of the contract without a tender to the former campaigners on behalf of the Tories.

“Given the huge importance of communications during a deadly pandemic, work of this magnitude must surely be undertaken by longstanding, proven expertise in public health communications,” Reeves said.

New UK coronavirus restrictions will test optimism over economic recovery

“Having made a mess of the health emergency when Covid-19 first surfaced, the government is now making a complete Horlicks of the economic crisis. Who knows, more chaos now could eventually lead to a happier, friendlier Britain later but one thing’s for sure: there will be much misery first.”

Larry Elliott www.theguardian.com 

Records are there to be broken, so it would be unwise to claim that there will never be a worse performance by the US or eurozone economies than was seen in the spring of 2020. It would, though, take something truly spectacular: a nuclear war, a meteor strike, a pan-continental climate catastrophe or a more severe pandemic than Covid-19.

It is worth reflecting for a moment on just how dire the recent economic news has been. The UK is a bit behind the US and the eurozone and does not report its second-quarter growth figures until 12 August but it is already known that the economy contracted by about 25% in only two months – March and April. Even with a pick-up in activity in May and June, activity was probably still about 15% below its pre-crisis level at the start of the third quarter.

It is a similar story elsewhere. Fifteen years of growth in the eurozone were wiped out in a single three-month period, while it was considered modestly good news last week when the second-quarter falls in gross domestic product in the US and Germany were limited to “just” 9.5% and 10.1% respectively. To put those better-than-expected figures into perspective, they were comfortably worse than anything seen in the early 1930s, when a quarter of Americans were unemployed and the Weimar Republic was on its last legs.

There are those who remain cheerful despite all the gloom – and they fall into three groups. The first category comprises those who say there is no link between an ever-expanding economy and wellbeing, and that it is time to de-fetishise growth. There has been an abundance of studies that have charted levels of happiness while GDP has been expanding but now there will be a plethora of data to show whether a smaller economy, lower personal incomes and greater amounts of leisure time (some of it involuntary) will result in more contented, stable societies.

Then there is the group who say the coronavirus has changed everything and that the world will never be the same again. This is, of course, what was said during the global financial crisis of 2008-09 but there is more substance to the claim this time. It is not just that the role of the state has expanded, although that is part of the story. It is also that the whole small state, sound money, globalisation model has been called into question by the pandemic.

Governments, even rightwing governments, have been forced into wartime-like levels of intervention: subsidising wages, providing 100% loan guarantees for businesses, nationalising or taking stakes in key sectors of the economy. To take one example, modern monetary theory – which broadly says that countries that have their own currency can print as much money to cover state spending until inflation starts to get out of hand – has had its devotees for many years but was always treated with disdain by central banks and finance ministries. Now the issue is not so much whether policymakers take MMT seriously but whether they are doing a version of it on the quiet.

All that said, there have been only two seminal shifts in political economy in the past century – in the mid-1940s and in the mid-1970s – and both were long-drawn-out, painful affairs. Inertia in the system means there is no guarantee that the challenge to the status quo will succeed.

Whether it does or not probably depends on whether the third category of cheery optimists are right. This group, wellrepresented in the financial markets, thinks the second-quarter growth figures are of little importance because they were the result of a one-off response to a health emergency that is now over. There was a deep recession when economies were put in full lockdown but recovery began as soon as the restrictions were eased and has been gathering pace ever since. Share prices have recovered a lot of the ground they lost in February and March because many in the City and on Wall Street are convinced that money creation by central banks and higher government spending by finance ministries will result in a V-shaped recovery.

As with the growth-doesn’t-make-you-happy thesis, this notion will be put to the test in the coming months. In the UK, there have been some signals – from retail sales, for example – that the economy is gaining momentum.

These, though, are massively outweighed by factors pointing to a much slower recovery, or even a double-dip recession. For a start, large chunks of the economy – including much of Britain’s night-time economy – remain closed.

Then there is the chaotic handling of the economy by the government, with the prime minister announcing an easing of restrictions one day and reimposing some the next. The chances of catching Covid-19 or dying from the virus are much lower than they were in March or April but you would never know it by the flip-flopping going on in Whitehall. The impression given by ministers is that it will take a very long time for the economy to return to normal, making such an outcome more likely.

It is also unfortunate that the Treasury has chosen this moment – when quarantine restrictions have been imposed on travellers returning from Spain, face masks are being made mandatory for a wider range of activities and restrictions have been tightened across much of the north of England – to start winding down its furlough scheme.

Having made a mess of the health emergency when Covid-19 first surfaced, the government is now making a complete Horlicks of the economic crisis. Who knows, more chaos now could eventually lead to a happier, friendlier Britain later but one thing’s for sure: there will be much misery first.

Why has the UK done so badly on Covid-19? There are still no simple answers 

There are still no simple answers 

David Spiegelhalter www.theguardian.com
At the end of April, which seems an age ago, I wrote an article for the Guardian about the problems of comparing the UK’s Covid-19 mortality rates with those of other countries, and said: “It’s tempting to try to construct a league table, but we’ll have to wait months, if not years, for the true picture.” Three months later, and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has duly obliged with a ranking of countries in Europe, using Eurostat data up to the end of May. The UK comes out on top. But, unlike football or Eurovision, this is not a league table you want to head.

The ONS analysis completely ignores the statistics on coronavirus deaths that we hear about all the time, and instead simply counts the total number of deaths from whatever cause. It then calculates the excess over the average for the past five years, adjusting for each country’s age patterns. Any excess could be due to Covid-19, or the effects of lockdown, or another reason.

When ranking countries according to the accumulated excess mortality since the start of the year England comes top, with nearly 8% extra deaths over the five-year average. Spain is second (7% extra), then Scotland (5%) and Belgium (4%). Wales and Northern Ireland are fifth and eighth respectively. The UK has done badly.

The UK has not, however, experienced the highest temporary peak of excess mortality: in mid-March, Bergamo in Italy had more than nine times the normal number of deaths, which produced the kind of desperate stories that drove the campaign to protect the NHS. The peak major city in Europe was Madrid, over a week in mid-March. A month later, Birmingham had more than three times its normal death rate, and some local areas were even higher: in one week in April, Brent, in north London, had more than four times its normal number of deaths. These statistics disguise what must have been a devastating time for communities.

To those of us who obsess about these things, a small surprise was Belgium having only half the relative excess mortality of England, since the websites that make international comparisons all show it as being the country (ignoring San Marino) with the highest number of coronavirus deaths per million population. But Belgium has been very generous in labelling deaths as down to Covid-19, which has perhaps given it an even poorer record than it deserves.

It is worth noting that the problems of counting Covid-19 deaths are vividly illustrated every day, when the Public Health England dashboard releases a count for the UK; for example, 119 and 83 additional coronavirus deaths were reported last Tuesday and Wednesday. NHS England is currently experiencing fewer than 15 Covid-19 deaths a day in hospitals, but the implausibly high PHE figures for England apparently also include any of the 250,000-plus people who have ever tested positive and have gone on to die of any cause, even if completely unrelated to coronavirus.

The Department of Health and Social Care has suspended these daily figures, but they are still going on all the international sites, and presumably are being used by others to judge how things are developing in the UK. They may be giving an inappropriately negative picture, as the ONS recently reported that the total number of deaths in the UK has shown no overall excess for the past five weeks.

But when we look at where the deaths are happening it is clear that we are not back to normal: people are still staying away from hospitals and dying at home. In England and Wales there were 766 excess deaths that occurred at home in the week ending 17 July, only 29 of which were with coronavirus, whereas in hospitals 862 fewer deaths than normal were registered. So more than 100 deaths a day were happening in people’s homes that would normally happen in hospital – although this is at least a reduction from the peak of the epidemic, when there were 2,000 additional home deaths a week.

Most people would prefer to die at home, but we seem to have no idea about the quality of these deaths, and whether some of them might have been delayed if they had gone to hospital.

Why has the UK done so badly? One hint is given by the interactive map provided by the ONS report, which shows the development of excess mortality at a local level across Europe. We see strong hotspots in northern Italy and central Spain, which stay fairly localised – for example, Rome has seen no excess mortality. But it is genuinely chilling to see these extra deaths erupt fairly evenly across the whole of the UK, as the thousands of people returning from winter holidays in Spain and Italy seeded hundreds of separate outbreaks across the country. The epidemic in the UK was more widespread and went on longer than in other countries, which saw their mortality return to normal levels by May, while the UK’s excess continued well into June.

But as I said previously, it is misguided to try to attribute good or bad performance to individual causes. Sweden has done badly and ranks sixth in the league table, just behind Wales. How much of this is due to its liberal measures, avoiding a strict lockdown? And how much is due to the fact that a huge number of Swedes take winter holidays in Spain and Italy, and returned and set off outbreaks, or that (like the UK) its care homes were not properly protected? There are no simple answers.

My original comments still hold: we will need years to properly assess the effect of the epidemic and the measures taken against it. We’ve now got a league table, but as to why the UK has done so badly, the arguments will go on.

• David Spiegelhalter is chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at Cambridge University. He is the author of The Art of Statistics

Secrecy has harmed UK government’s response to Covid-19 crisis, says top scientist

One of the country’s most senior scientists has criticised government for the “shroud of secrecy” drawn over major decisions in the coronavirus crisis and urged ministers to be more open about the reasons behind their policies.

Sir Paul Nurse, the nobel laureate and director of the Francis Crick Institute in London, said important decisions throughout the pandemic had been made in what appeared to be a “black box” of scientists, civil servants and politicians, and called for more transparency and scrutiny.

The failure to be more open about pivotal decisions, and the basis on which they were reached, meant it had been impossible to challenge emerging policy, he said, a situation that fuelled poor decisions and put public trust at risk.

Nurse’s comments came as other senior researchers raised further concerns about the way expert advice is handled in the UK and how the lack of transparency has allowed ministers to claim their policies are driven by scientific evidence.

Prof Nurse, the former president of the Royal Society and a chief scientific advisor to the European Commission, said: “Decisions are too often shrouded in secrecy. They need challenge and we need processes to ensure that happens. If they are going to keep the trust of the nation, they need to make those discussions more public.”

“It sometimes seems like a ‘black box’ made up of scientists, civil servants and politicians are coming up with the decisions,” Nurse added. “It needs to be more open. We need greater transparency, greater scrutiny and greater challenge to get the best results.”

Nurse’s comments came as:

Government departments have their own chief scientists, but during a crisis the prime minister and his cabinet are advised by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) which has a number of specialist subgroups. Sage is convened by the civil contingencies committee, Cobra, which considers advice from Sage and across government departments. The Sage membership depends on the crisis at hand. During the coronavirus pandemic, it has been roughly half academics and half government employees, including departmental chief scientists and experts from Public Health England, the NHS and the Health and Safety Executive.

Britain’s troubled effort to provide coronavirus testing revealed a number of instances where decisions should have been subjected to more scrutiny, Nurse said. Early on in the outbreak, the government suggested it was doing all the tests needed, yet only a limited number of tests were possible because capacity was so low. “They seemed not to want to admit that they weren’t prepared, that they were unable to do the testing properly, because that would have been an admission of failure from square one,” Nurse said.

Another decision, to build and equip the giant Lighthouse labs from scratch in a bid to scale up testing, resulted in “a total shambles at the height of the pandemic”, Nurse said, because large laboratories take time to set up. “It should have been clear that it would take many months. How was that decision made? It’s completely opaque,” he said.

While Sage has started to publish its minutes and supporting documents some weeks after it meets, Nurse says ministerial decisions, which are often said to be “led by the science”, are not open to the scrutiny.

Beyond the coronavirus crisis, Nurse believes the lack of openness stores up problems for the future. “What worries me is that we have an increasingly technocratic and complex society and we are going to increasingly need complex discussions involving science and the use of science that will impact on policy,” he said.

Prof Chris Higgins, who chaired the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (Seac) after the BSE Inquiry, said ministers would do well to re-read the report. The inquiry criticised ministers, chief medical officers and scientific advisors, after a “campaign of reassurance” left the public in the dark about the potential risks from British beef.

“The government has not learned the lessons outlined in the Phillips review of BSE,” Higgins said. “There should, as Phillips recommended, be a clear-cut separation between those analysing data and assessing risk and those making decisions. This distinction has been lost in the Covid crisis.”

Under Higgins, Seac held its meetings in public and made all its data available. No government advisors sat on the committee but they could observe and ask questions along with the members of the public. The committee’s risk assessments and analyses were shared openly and departments used them for policy making.

Sage works differently. It meets in private and members are asked not to talk about Sage discussions. The co-chairs, Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific advisor, and Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, are government employees, but do not make policy decisions.

Vallance’s and Whitty’s routine appearances on either side of Boris Johnson or one of his ministers lent scientific and medical credibility to the government’s announcements and the claim they were “following the science”, Higgins said. But by blurring the line between scientific advice and policy making, ministers made it easy for responsibility to be shifted to their advisors, he added. “When things go wrong, the government will say it’s not our fault, we did what the scientists told us,” he said.

“I’ve got great respect for Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty but they are being put in an impossibly conflicted position. They are not independent scientists gathering and analysing data. They are government-employed scientists whose job it is to interpret and interrogate the available data and relative risks for the politicians. It is the politicians who must balance the risks and make final decisions and therefore take responsibility.”

“I believe in transparency wherever possible. It keeps people honest and it allows people to see that science is not exact, that there are a lot of unknowns and that you have to make best guesses, and those best guesses will change,” Higgins said. “What I’d like to see is scientists having their discussions in public, and all the data being made available immediately, so people can see for themselves all the information that’s available for ministers to make decisions.”

James Wilsdon, professor of research policy at the University of Sheffield, said that if Vallance and Whitty had gone through the Phillips inquiry, they might have avoided some of the controversies that dogged Sage in the Covid-19 crisis.

“While it may have been politically and presentationally convenient, the unprecedented public prominence given to Vallance and Whitty was storing up problems, as and when the lines between scientific evidence, advice and decision-making became more blurry and contested,” Wilsdon said. “I don’t think Vallance should ever have allowed himself and Sage to be used in this way, or for ‘the science’, as embodied by Sage, to be presented in such a singular, monolithic way.”

New Covid and flu tests give results in 90 minutes

www.bbc.co.uk /news/uk-53632043

New “life-saving” 90-minute tests that can detect coronavirus and flu will be rolled out in care homes and laboratories from next week.

The “on-the-spot” swab and DNA tests will help distinguish between Covid-19 and other seasonal illnesses, the government said.

The health secretary said this would be “hugely beneficial” over the winter.

Currently, three quarters of test results are returned within 24 hours and a quarter can take up to two days.

The announcement comes as the government pushed back a July target to regularly test care home staff and residents, saying the number of testing kits had become more limited.

Almost half a million of the new rapid swab tests will be available from next week in adult care settings and labs, with millions more due to be rolled out later in the year.

Additionally, thousands of DNA test machines, which have already been used in eight London hospitals and can analyse nose swabs, will be rolled out across NHS hospitals from September.

Around 5,000 machines will provide 5.8 million tests in the coming months, the department said.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock described these latest innovations in coronavirus testing as “life-saving”.

He added: “Millions of new rapid coronavirus tests will provide on-the-spot results in under 90 minutes, helping us to break chains of transmission quickly.

“The fact these tests can detect flu as well as Covid-19 will be hugely beneficial as we head into winter, so patients can follow the right advice to protect themselves and others.”

Presentational grey line

Analysis

By Lauren Moss, health correspondent

There’s been a lot of focus on how long Covid test results can take to come back and the impact that has on halting the spread of the virus.

Overall, three quarters of results are now returned within 24 hours but some can still take up to two days.

The new rapid tests that can analyse swabs in pop up mobile labs and provide results in 90 minutes is hugely significant.

No data on the accuracy of these tests has been made publicly available yet but those behind them say there are controls in place to check for false negatives.

And another major benefit sees the tests able to detect other winter illnesses, such as the flu, so doctors will know whether someone presenting with coronavirus symptoms has the virus or something else.

Presentational grey line

It comes as authorities in Greater Manchester insisted people should not be alarmed by a decision to declare a “major incident” on Sunday evening in response to rising rates of Covid-19 there.

Manchester City Council said the move was to help various agencies work together and draw on extra resources.

Scotland’s national clinical director warned of going “backwards” over easing lockdown after a cluster of coronavirus cases were linked to a pub in Aberdeen.

Meanwhile, Leicester – the first UK city to have a localised lockdown – will see pubs and restaurants reopen from Monday as a number of restrictions are lifted.

And a government scheme to encourage people to visit restaurants, cafes and pubs, customers across the UK has now launched – giving customers of 72,000 establishments 50% off meals bought Monday to Wednesday in August.

Coronavirus tests are currently carried out at drive-through or walk-in sites as well as at hospitals for patients and some NHS workers.

Home test kits can also be delivered to someone’s door so people can test themselves. Swab samples are analysed at a laboratory before the result being passed on to the individual.

Unlike other seasonal illnesses, those infected with Covid-19 are required to self-isolate for 10 days.

‘Highly accurate’

Prof Chris Toumazou, co-founder of DnaNudge, which supplied the machines providing the tests, said the “rapid” and “highly accurate” Covid-19 test can be deployed anywhere “with a direct sample-to-result”.

Gordon Sanghera, chief executive of Oxford Nanopore, which supplied the tests, said they have the potential to provide an “accessible global testing solution”.

Regular testing of care home residents and staff was meant to have started on 6 July but officials said this might not be in place until the end of the first week of September.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “A combination of factors have meant that a more limited number of testing kits, predominantly used in care homes, are currently available for asymptomatic re-testing and we are working round the clock with providers to restore capacity.”

Last month, the government withdrew one brand of home-testing kits used in care homes over safety concerns.

Pay rise for teachers will halve school funding boost in England

Exclusive: analysis reveals pay award will come out of promised extra cash for state schools

Richard Adams www.theguardian.com 

School budgets will be less than 2% better off next year after it was revealed that the government’s pay increases for teachers will absorb more than half of the extra funding promised for state schools in England.

Analysis by the House of Commons library for the Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran calculated that the pay award announced by the government last month would come entirely from school budgets, eating into the funding boost announced for 2020-21 onwards.

The extra billions for school funding promised in the pre-election spending round will shrink to just £1.7bn in 2020-21 after accounting for the pay rise. Compared with 2019-20, that means the school budget increase from the Department for Education (DfE) will slow from 5.1% to just 1.9% in real terms.

The Commons researchers said the funding figures also do not include the additional costs that schools face as a result of Covid-19, such as intensive cleaning and remodelling, nor the extra costs of providing free school meals during the summer holidays.

Moran, the Lib Dem education spokesperson and a contender for the party’s leadership, said: “Our teachers have gone through the most tumultuous times in their careers because of Covid-19, and they deserve a pay rise. But the government’s failure to budget for this increase means many schools risk being left short-changed.

“Boris Johnson claims getting children back into school is a national priority. He must now ensure schools have the resources they need to cope with the pressures caused by coronavirus and ensure no child is left behind.”

The researchers said the DfE’s schools budget increased from £44bn in 2019-20, to £47bn in 2020-21, including additional funding for pensions, for an overall increase of 5.1% in real terms.

However, last month the government said teachers’ salaries would rise by 3% overall next year, including a 5.5% bump for new teachers. The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said the pay rises would be funded from existing budgets, in effect cutting the net increase to £1.7bn, or just 1.9% in real terms.

“This indicates that in both cash and real terms, the teacher pay increases will not erode all of the announced increases in school funding. However this will vary greatly between different schools depending on their individual circumstances,” the researchers stated.

They also noted that the figures do not include “increases in pupil numbers or other cost pressures schools may face,” such as extra cleaning to limit the spread of Covid 19, or the additional £1bn catch-up tutoring and support fund announced in June.

Jules White, the leader of the Worth Less? Group of headteachers lobbying for better school funding, said many had feared the promised increases in school funding would not be as significant as the original headlines suggested.

“We are already operating on a shoestring and it would be disastrous if the promised ‘levelling up’ and improvements to school budgets turned out to be little more than a mirage,” White said.

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “This means an anxious summer for school leaders as they decide what they have to cut to afford pay increases for their staff – or if they even need to lose some people to pay the rest more. A summer of stress and difficult decisions is no reward after months of going above and beyond during the pandemic.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “We want to make teaching attractive to the most talented candidates by recognising the outstanding contribution teachers make to our society. This is why we are introducing the biggest pay rise the profession has seen since 2005, with above-inflation rises to the pay ranges for every single teacher in the country.

“We are increasing core schools funding by £2.6bn in 2020-21, rising to a £7.1bn increase in 2022-23 compared with 2019-20. This is part of our three-year £14bn funding settlement to level up education funding and opportunity across the country.”

3/5 consumers used more local shops to support them during lockdown

“With people increasingly supporting their local area, businesses that have a strong understanding of the community will be the most likely to recover well and thrive in the coming months.”

www.retailgazette.co.uk 


Almost three in five consumers have used more local stores and services to help support them during the coronavirus lockdown, according to new research.

Analysis from Deloitte Digital that focuses on the impact of the pandemic on customer experience showed that 59 per cent of consumers used more local convenience stores that remained open during the lockdown.

In addition, 57 per cent of consumers say they will be more likely to spend money at a shop that offers locally-produced products once the lockdown has lifted than they would have done before the stay-at-home order was imposed.

Deloitte’s research, analysing responses from 2140 consumers aged 16 and over in Great Britain between May 22-26, also found that 20 per cent consumers have stopped using a business due to their response to Covid-19.

Just over a quarter – 28 per cent – of consumers between ages 16-24 say they have stopped using a shop for this reason, for instance that has refused to prioritise front-line workers or failed to ensure the safety of their employees.

Meanwhile, 19 per cent of all respondents say they have started using a shop as a result of their response, such as one that has prioritised front-line workers or quickly introduced measures to keep their employees safe.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has challenged brands to demonstrate their commitment to upholding the health and wellbeing of both their staff and their customers, while continuing to deliver products and services as safely and seamlessly as possible,” Deloitte Digital chief marketing officer Becky Skiles said.

“Those that have done this well are seeing real benefits in terms of customer loyalty.

“Younger consumers in particular are prepared to stand by the brands that demonstrate the positive impact they bring to society and abandon those who do not.

“For brands to build loyalty, the positive contribution they are bringing to employees and communities must be as clearly communicated as their product offering.”

Deloitte’s research also indicates that almost half – 46 per cent – of consumers say they are more likely to spend money at a shop that supports local charities, such as food banks, once the lockdown has lifted.

In comparison, 25 per cent of consumers say they are more likely to spend money at a shop with a large national presence and just seven per cent say they would be more likely to use a shop that has a large global presence.

Meanwhile, 62 per cent of consumers are more likely to spend money at a shop that takes extra steps to ensure the safety and well-being of their employees once the majority of lockdown restrictions have lifted.

“Consumers may have begun shopping locally out of necessity rather than choice, however they are rediscovering their local shop as a place for human contact and personal service when they need it most,” Deloitte Digital director Deborah Womack said.

“With people increasingly supporting their local area, businesses that have a strong understanding of the community will be the most likely to recover well and thrive in the coming months.”

Events to restart on East Devon District Council land

Events can soon return as East Devon District Council (EDDC) has announced it will allow booking of its owned land.

The relaxation of lockdown rules and new guidelines from the government has enabled EDDC to reopen the process for hiring its land from August, 3.

The council facilitates more than 300 events across East Devon parks, gardens and beaches every year and these range from local community events, markets, live theatre, fun fairs and weddings.

As part of their application to rent, event organisers will all be required to adhere with Covid-19 secure guidelines to ensure their event is safe to take place and permissions will be subject to any future changes in guidance.

Organisers can contact the EDDC events team who can offer advice on the safety measures they may need to undertake for their event to take place and a specific Covid-19 risk assessment which shows how social distancing, hand sanitising and the safety of attendees is maintained will need to be completed by all event organisers before permission is given for an event to take place.

Councillor Geoff Jung portfolio holder for coast, country and environment said: “Our district is renowned for its beautiful countryside.

“Our pretty parks, gardens and beaches offer the perfect location for hosting memorable events with their stunning backdrops and historic sights and many are situated within Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).”

“Our main events spaces are spread across East Devon.

“We have active communities throughout the District and our events programme aims to support them in delivering and participating in local events, promote health and wellbeing opportunities, encourages and improves visitor experience and positively increases tourism by attracting new businesses and events to the district.”

Further information about booking at event on East Devon District Council land can be found on the website here: and any potential event organiser who would like to hold an event should contact the events team by emailing events@eastdevon.gov.uk to discuss their plans.

 

Green light for huge solar farm in East Devon countryside

Proposals for a huge solar farm in the East Devon countryside –  that will provide power for 5,000 homes –  have been given the green light.

eastdevonnews.co.uk 

District council planning committee members unanimously backed the 15MW scheme on land south of Rockbeare Hill, Marsh Green, writes Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Clark.

Permission will last for 40 years and, at the end of the solar farm’s, the plot will be returned to agricultural use.

Councillors heard that, while 55 per cent of the site is good-quality farmland, it is not currently used for crop production.

Sheep grazing will continue to be possible while the solar farm is in operation.

Recommending approval, East Devon District Council (EDDC) development manager Chris Rose said: “It is considered that the benefits of the scheme outweigh the temporary loss of agricultural land.”

One of the fields where the solar farm will be located in land south of Rockbeare Hill, Marsh Green, in East Devon. Image shown to the EDDC Planning Committee

Plans for the solar farm on land south of Rockbeare Hill, Marsh Green, in East Devon. Image shown to the EDDC Planning Committee

Councillor Philip Skinner : “If we are going to drive the climate change agenda, applications like this need to be given the right weight, and renewable energy and clean energy like this is something I can get behind and support.”

Cllr Geoff Pook added that two issues that concerned him – the negative visual impact, which would be mitigated, and the loss of the agricultural land.

He said: “The loss of agricultural land is more of a concern to me, but it is not in perpetuity and there is going to be grazing on there anyway.

“I think the important thing is, with solar sites, they’ve got limited opportunity where they can be sited and they have to be somewhere, relatively close to a major substation.

“Although it’s nice, good land, there’s many more opportunities for food production than there are suitable places for solar sites.

“Personally, I’m not in favour of the industrialisation of the countryside and this is.

“I consider this sort of an industrialisation and urbanisation, but when you look at environmental concerns and the carbon neutral targets and considerations, I will be supporting it.”

Cllr Tony Woodward added: “Sometimes we have to make sacrifices, but the benefits will outweigh them and we have to make the right decision to approve this.”

West Hill and Aylesbeare ward member Cllr Jess Bailey said she was not convinced officers had drawn the correct balance between the need to retain the best quality and diverse agricultural land with the environmental benefits of the solar farm.

The committee agreed with officer recommendation and unanimously granted planning permission.

Elderly may be asked to stay at home under ministers’ blueprint to avoid new lockdown

Most of East Devon could effectively be on indefinite lockdown under these plans.

By Edward Malnick, Sunday Political Editor www.telegraph.co.uk 

Elderly people and others considered to have an increased risk from Covid-19 could be asked to stay at home under radical plans being drawn up to avert a second national lockdown, the Telegraph can disclose.

Boris Johnson has asked officials to prepare a suite of possible measures that could help avoid shutting down the economy for a second time, after he said that he wanted to avoid another lockdown.

The options include a programme of “enhanced” or “differential” shielding, as part of which vulnerable people would be asked to remain at home while the rest of the population continued to move around freely. One proposal is for the shielded group to be allocated specific times of the week to have exclusive access to some services and shops.

The potential measures also include imposing a city-wide lockdown on London if infection rates spike in the capital and tightening quarantine restrictions on those flying into the UK.

A fourth measure comprises “harder” local lockdowns than the restrictions imposed on parts of Greater Manchester, east Lancashire and West Yorkshire, where people from different households were barred from meeting indoors.

The disclosure comes after the Prime Minister announced that he was postponing the planned easing of lockdown measures due to take place this weekend amid heightened concerns about a possible second wave of infections.

Last month Mr Johnson told the Telegraph that the option of a second national lockdown was now akin to a “nuclear deterrent”, saying he “certainly” does not want another blanket shutdown, “and nor do I think we will be in that position again”.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, who helps lead the World Health Organisation’s pandemic response team, urges countries not to reimpose national lockdowns in an attempt to stem the spread of Covid-19 due to the health, social and economic repercussions.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph discloses warnings by government advisers that hairdressers and barbers could be inadvertently transmitting Covid-19 to their customers as a result of “inadequate” official guidance stipulating that they should wear visors rather than masks.

Officials from the Cabinet Office’s Covid-19 unit are understood to have suggested an enhanced shielding programme as part of a series of possible alternatives to a national lockdown.

Mr Johnson has now sanctioned the team to develop the options into formal policy proposals.

A senior Whitehall source said: “We are hopeful that fast action, regional lockdowns and quarantines will stop the need for any more substantive action. However we prepare for all scenarios, and officials are currently drawing up an array of policy options to present to the Prime Minister.”

More than two million people in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland who faced the highest risk of being hospitalised by Covid-19 has been asked to shield in their homes until Saturday, to avoid contracting the virus. In Wales, the advice remains in place until August 16.

Under the proposals, a greater number of people would be asked to take part in the shielding programme, based on their age or particular risk factors that have been identified since March.

Government research has found that, among people already diagnosed with Covid-19, people aged 80 or older were 70 times more likely to die than those under 40. Officials have also stated that people with diabetes, heart disease and dementia all appear to be at higher risk of death.

A Government source said: “The shielding list was binary, you’re either on it or you’re not. Now we know more, we can be more sophisticated about it.”

Any proposal to ask people to remain in their homes on the basis of their age would be likely to prompt a significant backlash. Lord Sumption, the former Supreme Court judge, has stated that shielding the old and vulnerable until a successful vaccine is developed would amount to “a cruel mockery of basic human values”.

An option believed to be under discussion as part of the proposed scheme is encouraging “shielding afternoons” or “shielding hours” for the most vulnerable to access shops and services without fearing that they could come into contact with those who have been freely moving around. The option comes after supermarkets introduced priority shopping hours for the elderly and vulnerable at the beginning of the national lockdown in March.

Scientists have also suggested that such a programme would require “very intensive screening” of care home staff, hospital medics, and members of a shielded person’s household, to ensure that those coming into contact with them are unlikely to transmit the virus.

An early proposal for enhanced shielding was set out in a paper by University of Edinburgh scientists in April.

They stated: “If Covid-19 was circulating only in the non-vulnerable population then the NHS could easily cope with the levels of mild disease, some hospitalisations and occasional critical care. Numbers of deaths would be low.

“Therefore, if we could greatly reduce the incidence of infection in the vulnerable group the epidemic could be manageable. Shielding is intended to reduce the incidence; to do more we need ‘enhanced shielding.”

Another option under consideration is to prevent Londoners from travelling outside of the M25 in the event of a major spike in the capital. Quarantine measures for travellers landing in the UK could also be increased, on the basis that the first wave in the country began after a significant number of cases were imported from abroad.

The Government is also thought to be considering implementing a national ban on people from different households meeting indoors, in the event that official figures show a continued rise of infections across the country, and test and trace figures suggest that such social contact is partly responsible.

Last week Lord Sumption called for the population to be allowed to make “our own personal risk assessments in the light of our age and state of health and the sort of activities in which we engage.”

Writing in The Telegraph, he stated: “For some people, social distancing will remain a sensible precaution. The rest of us should respect their choice but drop it and get on with our lives. We cannot keep running away.”