Watchdog orders Big Four to separate auditing units by 2024 – Hurrah!

The Big Four accounting firms — PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY — must separate their audit units from the rest of their businesses by 2024, the audit watchdog said this morning. [6 July]

Anna Menin 

The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) is asking the companies to agree to operational separation by June 2024 to ensure their audits “do not rely on persistent cross subsidy from the rest of the firm”.

Read more: Head of audit review calls for urgent reform after Wirecard scandal

Sector tainted by series of scandals

Auditors have come under increased regulatory scrutiny in recent years, with corporate failures at Carillion retailer BHS led to three government-backed reviews that recommended a shake-up of audit.

However the government has not yet introduced legislation mandating change in the sector — partly due to Brexit and more recently, the coronavirus pandemic.

EY’s role in the collapse of Wirecard has also come under the microscope recently. The firm has been accused of failing to carry out standard audit procedure for three years at the disgraced German payments firm.

The FRC had already begun seeking voluntary changes to help speed up reform, and said on Monday it was asking the Big Four firms to agree to operational separation based on a set of principles it has already discussed with them.

Sir Jon Thompson, chief executive of the FRC, said that operational separation of audit was a “major step in the reform of the audit sector”.

“The FRC remains fully committed to the broad suite of reform measures on corporate reporting and audit reform and will introduce further aspects of the reform package over time,” he added.

Firms must submit an implementation plan to the FRC by 23 October this year, for implementation by June 30, 2024 at the latest, the regulator said.

Big Four back watchdog’s plans

All Big Four firms issued statements welcoming the watchdog’s announcement.

A PwC spokesperson said the firm “shares the FRC’s objectives of improved quality and confidence in audit” and “will continue to engage constructively” with the regulator.

Stephen Griggs, Deputy chief executive at Deloitte UK, said: “We welcome this clarity from the FRC on the principles of operational separation and will continue working with them to develop our plans over the coming months.”

EY and KPMG both said they supported the FRC’s plans, but also called for changes to corporate governance in the UK in addition to audit reform.

Read more: Accounting watchdog investigates London Capital & Finance audits

“As part of the audit profession’s evolution, a holistic package of reforms, including improved director accountability and changes to the scope of audit, is required to deliver effective and sustainable change,” said Hywel Ball, chairman of EY UK.

Jon Holt, head of audit at KPMG UK, called for “an ambitious package of wider reforms across the corporate landscape,” including “clarifying and enhancing the responsibilities of boards, directors and management”.

Commissioner Alison Hernandez’s handouts

“Some of Devon and Cornwall’s most popular beauty spots will be made safer and cleaner this summer thanks to a half-million-pound fund set up by the Police and Crime Commissioner.”

“The funding can be spent on street marshals, CCTV, assisting volunteer schemes like Street Pastors and the provision of temporary toilets.”

So no cash for the Police and nothing for Stuart Hughes “I contacted Alison Hernandez and asked if the police could keep a watchful eye on what’s happening [in Sidmouth]…”

Commissioner helps communities tackle antisocial behaviour with £500k fighting fund 

Some of Devon and Cornwall’s most popular beauty spots will be made safer and cleaner this summer thanks to a half-million-pound fund set up by the Police and Crime Commissioner.

Alison Hernandez is making extra money available to tackle antisocial behaviour in 20 key summer locations across the two counties ahead of Saturday’s easing of coronavirus restrictions and a summer surge in visitors.

The funding can be spent on street marshals, CCTV, assisting volunteer schemes like Street Pastors and the provision of temporary toilets.

In recent weeks police and communities have had to deal with incidents of antisocial behaviour linked to excessive drinking as restrictions on people’s movement have eased.

The new measures will help complement a wider summer policing plan that has enabled Devon and Cornwall Police to place extra resources at hotspots like Orcombe Point in Exmouth.

The 20 locations to benefit from the additional funding have been identified by Devon and Cornwall Police to help prevent alcohol related antisocial behaviour over the busy Covid-19 summer period.

The 20 locations are: Exmouth seafront and Orcombe Point, Exeter Quay, Exeter Cathedral, Bideford Quay, Woolacombe Beach, Croyde Bay, Torquay seafronts, Paignton seafronts, Newton Abbot, Teignmouth waterfront, Brixham Waterfront and Harbour, Towan Beach and waterfront (Newquay), Fistral Beach (Newquay), St Ives Waterfront, Lemon Quay (Truro), Perran Sands (Perranporth), Penzance waterfront, Bude waterfront, Plymouth Hoe and Plymouth Barbican.

The commissioner will be working with local authorities and community safety partnerships over the next few days to agree bespoke solutions for each of the locations but has immediately made available £3,000 per location to support this coming weekend.

This new initiative comes directly from discussions between the Commissioner and councils in response to concerns about specific locations.

In Torbay Brixham, Paignton and Torquay will receive a total of up to £60,000 to spend on the measures.

Torbay Council Leader Cllr Steve Darling said: “Over recent weeks we have been working with our partners to tackle the emerging anti-social behaviour in public places since we have started to come out of lockdown, and we welcome this additional financial support from the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office to help address the issue.

“In common with many areas in recent weeks there has been some antisocial behaviour in Torbay and it’s important that we work together with all our partners to tackle the issue head on.

“We fully appreciate that people are keen to venture out and meet up with family and friends on a more social level as the lockdown restrictions are lifted, but we’d like to encourage people to please act responsibly. We will work with the Commissioner, local police, other partners and our communities to ensure that everyone can enjoy the beautiful surroundings Torquay, Paignton, Brixham and surrounding areas have to offer and help to keep people safe.”

Exeter City Council leader Councillor Phil Bialyk also welcomed the initiative.

Cllr Bialyk said: “I’m very pleased to be working with Alison and her office on issues we have seen at Exeter Quay and I’m grateful for her quick response.

“There is a lot to be said for people taking personal responsibility when it comes to sporadic outburst of antisocial behaviour. It has been a national problem and unfortunately Exeter hasn’t been immune.

“Together with the Commissioner I am confident we are doing everything within our control and resources to continue to retain Exeter Quay a stunning location for people to enjoy.”

The Police and Crime Commissioner said that the funding was in addition to the £1.7m invested annually by her in community safety partnerships. These work with local partners to build safer communities.

“We are entering what is traditionally Devon and Cornwall Police’s busiest period, with potentially even more visitors to the Westcountry than in previous years,” she said.

“I welcome the fact that the bars, restaurants and cafes which are an important part of our economy will be able to open this weekend, and we can once again give tourists a warm westcountry welcome.

“But I do want people to behave responsibly and consider the impact of their behaviour on others. This funding represents a significant investment in practical measures that, in partnership with councils and police, will help keep people safe and reduce the impact of the impending changes to coronavirus regulations.

“Our work with Exeter last week identified a wider opportunity to see us help more locations and I am delighted we can offer similar support to a wider group of areas to help prevent alcohol related antisocial behaviour this summer – in addition to the significant investments already being made through our summer policing plans.”

Covid -19: The mystery of ‘silent spreaders’ (and asymptomatic cases)

The recent positive testing case in Exmouth Community College was asymptomatic and only picked up by chance. This article explains how asymptomatic and “silent spreaders” pose particular problems in tackling Covid-19. Not something to outsource to Deloitte in Owl’s opinion – you need experience (Oh and a world class test, track, trace and isolate system).

By David Shukman Science editor

As the crisis has unfolded, scientists have discovered more evidence about a strange and worrying feature of the coronavirus. While many people who become infected develop a cough, fever and loss of taste and smell, others have no symptoms at all and never realise they’re carrying Covid-19.

Researchers say it’s vital to understand how many are affected this way and whether “silent spreaders” are fuelling the pandemic.

When people gathered at a church in Singapore on 19 January, no-one could have realised that the event would have global implications for the spread of coronavirus. It was a Sunday and, as usual, one of the services was being conducted in Mandarin. Among the congregation at The Life Church and Missions, on the ground floor of an office building, was a couple, both aged 56, who’d arrived that morning from China.

As they took their seats, they seemed perfectly healthy so there was no reason to think they might be carrying the virus. At that time, a persistent cough was understood to be the most distinctive feature of Covid-19 and it was seen as the most likely way to transmit it. Having no symptoms of the disease should have meant having no chance of spreading it.

The couple left as soon as the service was over. But shortly afterwards, things took a turn for the worse, and in a wholly confusing way. The wife started to become ill on 22 January, followed by her husband two days later. Because they had flown in from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, that was no big surprise.

But over the following week, three local people also came down with the disease for no obvious reason, leading to one of Singapore’s first and most baffling coronavirus cases. Working out what had happened would lead to a new and disturbing insight into how the virus was so successfully finding new victims.

Mobilising ‘disease detectives’

“We were extremely perplexed,” says Dr Vernon Lee, head of communicable diseases at Singapore’s Ministry of Health. “People who didn’t know one another somehow infected each other,” while showing no sign of illness. This new batch of cases simply did not make sense, according to what was known about Covid-19 back then.

So Dr Lee and his fellow scientists, along with police officers and specialist disease trackers, launched an investigation, generating detailed maps showing who was where and when. This involved the very best of the process known as contact tracing – a version of which is getting under way now in the UK. It’s seen as a vital system for tracking down everyone involved in an outbreak and helping to stamp it out, and Singapore is renowned for the skill and speed with which this is carried out.

Amazingly, within a few days, investigators had spoken to no fewer than 191 members of the church and had found out that 142 of them had been there that Sunday. They quickly established that two of the Singaporeans who became infected had been at the same service as the Chinese couple.

“They could have spoken to each other, greeted each other, during the usual activities of a church service,” says Dr Lee.

That was a useful start and would explain in theory how the infection could have been passed on, apart from one key factor. It did not answer the crucial question of how the virus could have been transmitted by the two Chinese people when at that stage they had shown no indication of having the disease.

And on top of that was an even greater puzzle. It was confirmed that the third Singaporean to become infected, a 52-year-old woman, had not been at the same service as the others. Instead she had attended another event in the same church later that day, so how could she have picked up the virus?

Evidence no-one expected

Investigators resorted to going through the CCTV recordings made at the church that Sunday to search for clues. And they stumbled across something completely unexpected – the woman who’d attended the later service, after the Chinese couple had left, had sat in the seats they had used several hours earlier.

Somehow, despite having no symptoms and not feeling ill, the Chinese husband and wife had managed to spread the virus. Maybe they’d had it on their hands and touched the seats, maybe their breath carried the infection and it landed on a surface, it’s not clear, but the implications were huge.

For Dr Lee, piecing everything together, there was only one possible explanation – that the virus was being passed by people who had it without even realising. This was a revelation that would be relevant the world over because the central message of all public health advice on coronavirus has always been to look out for symptoms in yourself and others.

But if the virus was also being spread by people without symptoms, silently and invisibly, how could the disease be stopped? He remembers the moment, while working in his office, when the reality dawned on him. “Every time you make a scientific discovery, it is like a ‘eureka’ moment when you realise that this is something important that you’ve uncovered, through the hard work of many individuals and teams.”

Spread before symptoms show

What was revealed was what’s known as “pre-symptomatic transmission” where someone is unaware of being infected because the cough, fever and other classic symptoms have yet to begin.

Along with many others, this study highlighted a critical period of 24-to-48 hours before the visible onset of the disease in which people can be highly infectious, perhaps even their most infectious.

Being aware of that is potentially invaluable, because as soon as you realise you’re ill then everyone you’ve been in close contact with can be warned to stay at home.

That would mean that they would be isolating during the key phase of infection before their own symptoms start. But exactly how the disease can be transmitted without a cough to project droplets containing the virus is still open to debate.

One option is that simply breathing or talking to someone can do the job. If the virus is reproducing in the upper respiratory tract at that time then it’s possible that some of it will emerge with each exhalation. Anyone close enough, especially indoors, could easily pick it up.

And another potential form of transmission is by touch – the virus gets onto someone’s hands and they touch another person or a door handle – or a seat in a church. Whatever the route, the virus is clearly exploiting the fact that people are bound to be less vigilant if they’re not aware that they might be infected.

Some people never show symptoms

This is an even more mysterious scenario, and one that scientists simply have no definitive answer to. It’s one thing to know that people can be infectious before their symptoms show, quite another when they become infected but never have any sign of it.

This is what’s known as being “asymptomatic” because you are a carrier of the disease but do not suffer in any way yourself. The most famous case is that of an Irish woman who was working as a cook in New York at the beginning of the last century.

Wherever Mary Mallon was employed, in house after house, people became ill with typhoid and at least three, maybe many more, died of it, but she was completely unaffected. Eventually a connection was established and it was confirmed that she was the unwitting spreader of the disease.

Reporters dubbed her “Typhoid Mary”, a label she always resented, but the authorities took no chances and kept her in confinement for 23 years until her death in 1938.

Assumptions undermined

Staff nurse Amelia Powell was shocked when she found out that she is asymptomatic. She was at work on her hospital ward at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge in April when a doctor rang to give her the result of a swab test.

She had been feeling normal and safe behind the personal protective equipment she had to wear while caring for patients with Covid-19. But suddenly all those assumptions were undermined because, to her horror, she had tested positive.

“It was a bit like hearing that someone in the family had passed, it was surreal. I thought, ‘This can’t be right, not me, I’m absolutely fine,'” says 23-year-old Amelia.

She had to leave her post straightaway to go into isolation at home.

“I was worried because I’ve seen the other side, with patients deteriorating very quickly with it, so I did wonder if this would happen to me.” But, to her surprise, at no point did she feel unwell. “I had nothing, literally – I was exercising indoors, eating normally, sleeping normally.”

At the moment it’s impossible to know how many cases of infection exist but remain hidden from view.

The discovery that Amelia was infected was only revealed because she was part of a study of all the staff at her hospital. It produced the surprising result that as many as 3% of more than 1,000 people were positive while showing no symptoms at the time of the test.

An even greater proportion of asymptomatic cases was found on the Diamond Princess cruise ship which had been sailing off the coast of Japan earlier this year. Later branded “a petri dish for infection”, it had around 700 cases.

Researchers found that three quarters of the people who had tested positive had no symptoms.

And at a care home in Washington state more than half the residents were positive but had no sign of the illness.

‘No single reliable study’

Different studies suggest a huge range of possibilities for how many cases are asymptomatic stretching from 5% to 80% of cases. That was the conclusion of an analysis by Prof Carl Heneghan of the University of Oxford and colleagues who looked at 21 research projects.

The upshot, they said, was that “there is not a single reliable study to determine the number of asymptomatics”. And they said that if the screening for Covid-19 is only carried out on people with symptoms – which has been the main focus of UK testing policy – then cases will be missed, “perhaps a lot of cases”.

The risk of ‘silent spreaders’

The biggest concern of Amelia, the nurse, was that she might have unwittingly transmitted the virus either to those she works with or to the patients who depend on her help.

“I don’t think I passed it on because all the colleagues I work with tested negative but it was worrying to think how long I’d been positive for,” she says. “But we still don’t know if people who are asymptomatic are contagious or not – it’s very bizarre and the information about it at the moment is minimal.”

One study in China which found that the number of asymptomatic cases was actually greater than those with symptoms had a warning for the authorities. “As ‘silent spreaders’,” the scientists wrote, “asymptomatic carriers warrant attention as part of disease prevention and control.”

The team that studied that Diamond Princess reckoned that asymptomatic cases were likely to be less infectious than people with symptoms but even so they’re estimated to have caused a significant number of cases.

The ‘dark matter’ of asymptomatic infection

To try to get an answer, scientists in Norwich are pushing for the population of the entire city to be tested.

“Asymptomatic cases may be the ‘dark matter’ of the epidemic,” according to Prof Neil Hall, head of the Earlham Institute, a life science research centre, who’s leading the initiative. Dark matter is the invisible substance believed to make up most of the matter in the universe, and it’s yet to be identified.

Prof Hall worries that asymptomatic cases may actually be driving the pandemic, keeping it going despite public health measures. “If you have people who don’t know they’re ill while using public transport and health care facilities, inevitably that’s going to increase transmission,” he says.

“Any intervention that’s only based on people coming to primary health care when they have symptoms will only deal with half the problem.”

A team of scientists in California believes that not knowing who’s carrying the virus without symptoms is the “Achilles Heel” of the fight against the pandemic.

In their view, the only way to stop the disease from spreading is to find out who’s infected regardless of whether they think they are or not. That was also the recommendation of MPs on the Commons Science and Technology Committee in a letter to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

They wrote that the risk of asymptomatic transmission has “a profound consequence for the management of the pandemic”. And they said that anyone looking after vulnerable people – such as health workers or care workers – should be given regular testing.

A similar approach is being adopted on a far larger scale in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic is thought to have begun.

As many as 6.5 million people there were tested in as little as nine days in a mass screening programme designed to detect the disease – including in those showing no symptoms.

Easing of lockdown

As lockdown measures are eased and more people start to use public transport, return to work or go shopping, getting to grips with the invisible risk matters more than ever. At the moment, there is no way of telling who among the growing crowds may be carrying the virus without knowing.

That’s why governments the world over say it’s essential that everyone cooperates with efforts to trace the contacts of anyone infected and then quickly self-isolates. They also advise that the best defence remains social distancing – to keep apart wherever you can. But where that isn’t possible, the recommendation is to cover your face, even with a mask that’s homemade.

Image copyright Getty ImagesImage caption More and more governments are advising wearing face masks

When the US government announced this policy, it highlighted the discoveries made in the church in Singapore back in January. The logic is that this is not about protecting yourself, it’s about protecting others from you, in case you’re infected but don’t know it.

Many health professionals worry that masks might distract people from hand washing or social distancing, or increase the risk of contamination if they’re clumsily handled. But more and more governments, most recently that of the UK, have become convinced of the benefits.

Not that face coverings will halt the pandemic on their own. But because there’s still so little we know about asymptomatic transmission, almost anything is worth a try.

‘Slums of the future’ may spring from relaxed England planning rules, experts warn

Thousands of tiny, substandard “rabbit-hutch” flats could be created in commercial buildings left empty by the coronavirus economic slowdown under planning reforms championed by Boris Johnson.

University College London professor Ben Clifford – who recently completed a government review of housing produced outside the conventional planning system – said allowing developers to turn a wider range of commercial properties into flats without planning checks could lead to a wave of substandard conversions.

“Unless there are proper safeguards, we could see even more poor-quality, tiny flats being crammed into commercial buildings lacking amenities and green space,” he said. “These could be what others have rightly called the slums of the future.”

Johnson last week pledged to bring forward the most radical reforms to the planning system since the end of the second world war, starting with an expansion of permitted development rights, which allow buildings to be repurposed without full planning permission.

Clifford was last year asked by the government to review the quality of homes delivered through existing permitted development rights, which cover offices, retail and light industrial units. He urged ministers to publish the report, which was submitted in January. “The evidence in the report would help inform a debate that has already started about these important issues, which could lead to huge changes in many towns and cities,” he said.

Clifford previously co-authored a report for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors that suggests 70% of flats produced by permitted development are below the government space standards, with some measuring just 15 square metres. Basements with little natural light and blocks on lorry-clogged industrial parks have been turned into flats by developers.

Since 2015 more than 60,000 flats have been created through permitted development in England, with almost 90% coming from office conversions. “It is popular with developers because they do not have to make a contribution to affordable housing and local infrastructure,” added Clifford. “It’s often far more profitable than going through the normal planning system.”

The latest changes will come into force in September. Details are expected later this month but it could cover banks, building societies, clinics, training centres and even gyms. “Under these proposals the government might allow a whole host of other commercial buildings to be converted to residential uses,” said Clifford. “It could lead to thousands of new conversions.”

Some areas have already seen a flurry of controversial office to residential conversions. In Harlow, Essex, half the new homes created in 2018/19 came from office conversions. The town’s Conservative MP Robert Halfon said he would be writing to the prime minister and the housing minister, Robert Jenrick, about the latest proposals. “I think it is a disaster in the offing,” he said. “If there are not proper controls on quality and developers are allowed to build ghettos for people on the lowest incomes then we will have a repeat of what we’ve had in the first wave of permitted development.”

Halfon called for Clifford’s report to be published. “I’m in favour of liberalising the planning system” he said. “But permitted development is about quantity rather than quality.”

Hugh Ellis, policy director for the Town and Country Planning Association, accused ministers of sitting on Clifford’s report because it did not align with their deregulatory drive. “The report will – I’m sure – show that permitted development has produced some dreadful outcomes,” he said. “Could it be that the government received a report raising very significant challenges about what they have been doing and they choose to ignore it?”

According to the Local Government Association, more than one million homes granted planning permission have not been built by developers in the past decade. “Planning is not a barrier to building new homes,” said David Renard, the LGA’s housing and planning spokesperson.

A housing ministry spokesperson said: “Like any other project, homes built under permitted development rights must meet rigorous building regulations. These new regulations will cut red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy while maintaining high standards, and make effective use of existing buildings in keeping with the character of their local area.”

• This article was amended on 5 July 2020. An earlier version referred to UK, rather than England, planning rules, and described some flats measuring 15 metres squared, when that should have said 15 square metres.

Is ‘build build build’ really the best way forward for England’s planning system?

Rip up planning red tape to spur house building,” says housing secretary Robert Jenrick, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson argues for a radical shake-up to the planning system to deliver on his “build build build” mantra. There’s a clear political message that England’s planning system is broken and needs change.

Alister Scott

Such change should not be based on simply building more, but on an accurate diagnosis of the problems the planning system is experiencing and trying to solve. If it isn’t, there is a risk of a future prime minister saying again that the planning system is broken and in need of urgent reform.

After all, David Cameron in 2011 attacked the planning system as “the enemy of enterprise” and similarly embarked on a package of reforms to speed up housing delivery and economic growth and cut red tape. Yet consistently over 80% of planning applications are approved, challenging any simplistic presumptions that planning inhibits growth.

Political change has been a constant in England’s planning system. Since the landmark 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, some 360 pieces of planning legislation have been enacted. What’s more, since 1997 there have been 18 housing ministers, hindering policy consistency.

Managing change has been made more difficult with significant cuts to planning departments under austerity, compounded by incremental legislative changes that create the very complexity and delays that the government now complains about.

Today, calls for reform have been fuelled by a report by the right-wing thinktank Policy Exchange. With the country needing to build many more houses, the argument goes that replacing our plan-led system that assesses every application with a zoning system would reduce bureaucracy and help speed up decision-making.

There have already been some moves in this direction, with enterprise zones and brownfield “permission in principle” orders. Permitted development rights have enabled the government to fast-track more commercial-to-residential developments and housing extensions. Boris Johnson has just announced further loosening of the rules on converting other commercial establishments, shops and redundant premises into homes.

But these changes have already been criticised due to the growth of poor quality houses and flats with no windows, isolated from key services and infrastructure. Such homes would never have been given approval in the regular planning system, and also conflict with other policy considerations such as those of the advisory Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.

Diagnosing the planning challenges

“Build build build” is the wrong starting point. Planning is dominated by a target of building 300,000 homes each year, and the prime minister’s rhetoric reinforces that narrative. But one simple quantity metric on housing is dangerous and limiting when planning encompasses so much more.

The planning system should instead be designed to address the long-term challenges and opportunities our society faces. And that means a more integrated quality-based approach based on a shared vision of the kind of places we want to live in. Let’s identify these challenges in more detail:

  1. There is a housing challenge. Plenty of luxury flats are built but not enough affordable family homes. The key national priorities do not match the types of housing now being built and wanted by developers.
  2. There is a climate challenge. We are not doing anything like enough to meet the 1.5℃ Paris target, with 3℃ or more of warming now more likely. The planning system needs to have strong policies that help the transition to a greener lower carbon future with higher priority given to retrofitting of existing housing stock.
  3. There is a biodiversity challenge. The state of UK nature is declining year on year with many species on the brink of extinction. Biodiversity forms the backbone of viable ecosystems on which we depend on for basic necessities, security and health. This diversity makes us more resilient to change and uncertainty in much the same way as investing in a diverse range of stocks protects a financial portfolio from uncertainty.
  4. There is a health challenge. Poor housing stock and noise and air pollution, along with a lack of access to key services, all affect physical and mental health.
  5. There is a poverty and social justice challenge. The gap between the haves and have-nots is widening. Here child poverty is a major issue. The planning system was founded on the need for improved social justice, yet in recent years this has been conspicuously absent from policy.
  6. There is a public engagement challenge. Ordinary people should be able to understand and engage with planning more effectively and help co-produce the kinds of sustainable places they want to live, work and play in. The current system is too complex and too adversarial. A key opportunity is for the public to be more involved in planning processes which should be based on modern interactive “e-planning” and not dense and static PDF files.

These challenges are all interlinked and collectively should form the key principles on which a better and more joined-up planning system should be built. However, what that planning system looks like is not for me or anyone to dictate in a top-down fashion. We urgently need better diagnoses of these challenges and integrated interventions, so that then we can then design better governance and delivery frameworks that are less complex and fragmented.

I fear that the government will continue on its present trajectory, based on the populist but fallacious presumption that planning is restricting housebuilding, and impose yet more change on a public sector ill-equipped to deal with it. In effect, the country lurches from one crisis to another. And that is definitely not good planning.

Heinz 57+1 point plan to rebuild Devon’s economy! Phew!

The 58 point plan to rebuild Devon’s economy

We have the Heart of the South West, the Official Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), supposedly driving our local economy through productivity improvements. Then there have been a couple of organisations Owl describes as Provisional LEPs such as the “Golden Triangle” and the “South West Group Charter” which didn’t seem to last very long but made a lot of noise. Lately, we have also had a new entrant the Real LEP (or the LEP’s LEP ) “The Great South West” pitching to Sajid Javid on behalf of the three peninsular LEPs just before he resigned as Chancellor.

Now we have “Team Devon” proposing their Heinz 57+1 point plan to re-build the county’s post Covid-19 economy.

Owl doesn’t quite know what to make of it all. Certainly Owl has been unimpressed by all economic “planning” to date and thinks it might be helpful, in the short term, to focus on a County approach.

But 58 aims of: seeking, securing, lobbying, pursuing, working, establishing, enhancing, engaging, supporting, developing, implementing, confirming, improving, championing and taking forward is all a bit confusing for an Owl. (Apparently it has great potential to create 30,000 new jobs, 80,000 new training places and secure investment of £550 million, generating £2.8 billion of additional economic output. Let’s start counting!)


Daniel Clark 

A recovery plan to enable Devon to re-build the county’s economy to be stronger, more inclusive and sustainable has been unveiled.

The programmes and projects listed in the prospectus for its COVID-19 Economy and Business Recovery Plan have the potential to create 30,000 new jobs, 80,000 new training places and secure investment of £550 million, generating £2.8 billion of additional economic output.

Devon’s economy is predicted to shrink by around 8 per cent this year, roughly 1 per cent more than the rest of the UK, according to a new impact assessment commissioned by Team Devon, which suggests that the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic will continue in the medium term with recovery likely to be slow through to 2023.

But the prospectus outlines the vision of how the county can level up its economy in response to the crisis with immediate priorities to seek an initial investment package of £56m to support the hardest hit communities and sustain 6,500 local jobs, deliver 5,000 training opportunities and support 7,500 enterprises to assist businesses to re-open, adapt and grow, help young people and those at risk of redundancy find or keep a job, and invest in Devon’s hardest hit communities and sectors.

Team Devon, a public and private sector partnership drawing in expertise from business, education, skills and public sector organisations, has developed the plan with the backing of business representatives, Devon’s County, District and City Councils, the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, Dartmoor National Park and Devon’s MP’s.

Cllr Rufus Gilbert, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Economy and Skills, said: “COVID 19 has had a disproportionate impact on Devon’s businesses and residents, and it’s likely that the next two years may be among the most challenging in living memory for our local economy.

“All of the partners in Team Devon are united in the belief that there is now an opportunity to restart, regrow and reset our economy to enable Devon to emerge a stronger, more dynamic place to live and work. With the right support at national and local level we can achieve our ambition for a more inclusive and sustainable economy that benefits us all.”

The impact of the economic downturn across Devon has varied depending on sector and location. In the tourism and hospitality sector, 92 per cent of Devon businesses were disrupted by the crisis between March and June, but only 5 per cent of business in the digital sector faced the same level of disruption.

The unemployment claimant count in Exeter doubled in the three months to June, while in the South Hams it increased by 400 per cent, while unemployment among those aged between 18-25 and over 50 tripled in the same period, almost twice as fast as the Devon average.

Recovery is also predicted to vary greatly, with forecast of a two-year dip and recovery period in Exeter, through to a 10 per cent reduction and five-year recovery for some other areas of the county such as Mid Devon and Torridge. For some sectors, such as tourism and hospitality, it may take a decade to return to levels of income and employment experienced in 2019.

The Team Devon COVID-19 Economy and Business Recovery Prospectus aims to achieve thriving and successful city, town and rural communities attracting residents, visitors, businesses and students to live, work, learn and visit safely and feel connected, to ensure economic performance and employment reaches pre-COVID-19 levels by 2022, and that every individual can access a worthwhile job, undertake relevant and meaningful training and progress in learning or secure employment providing the income they need to thrive.


  • Pursue the allocation of a Great South West Tourism Zone to include Devon, providing support towards new visitor attractions and features, activity that can extend the tourism season and support for improving transport and the visitor experience.
  • Seek £10m of additional grant funding to support the tourism sector in Devon, providing up to £5,000 per business to support adaption and reopening costs, marketing and communications and other projects which benefit trade and the visitor experience.
  • Implement a regional certificated scheme on opening safely,seeking to utilise the well-received Better Business for All Toolkit approach and Buy with Confidence approved trader scheme.
  • Lobby for a sector specific extension to the furlough scheme and VAT payment deferral – support the sector with extensions to these two national support measures and other potential costs around reopening safely. Seek a relaxation of furlough regulations taking account of specific issues for seasonal and part time workers.
  • Working closely with DWP, take forward an accelerated approach to redeployment / rapid retraining of staff members made redundant within the tourism sector, including providing access to short retraining courses and tailored employability support into other sectors, such as Digital or Health and Care
  • Seek £500,000 to provide up to 500 additional training places for the Tourism sector, including additional support in leadership and management, customer service, business administration and sector specific skills (catering, hospitality)
  • Establish an enhanced business support offer for the Tourism sector, including hospitality and leisure leadership and management This would include a ‘Be the Business’ training programme to support business planning, rebuilding and embed learning around COVID-19 impacts.
  • Enhance the resilience of the sector through grant support for projects which look to extend the tourism season and reinforce local supply chains, including support for diversification of individual offers (around health, environmental and accessible tourism) and which encourage local buying / purchasing. This includes a ‘Made in Devon’ quality approval scheme linked to Buy with Confidence.
  • Pursue Town Funding for regeneration projects which contribute to the visitor economy in 8 coastal and rural locations, including town centre renewal in Ilfracombe and Dawlish.
  • Seek additional support for our Destination Management Organisations, to sustain their operations and take forward additional joint destination marketing activity over the next year
  • Seek an additional £10m of grant support towards assisting agriculture and food & drink sector to restart within Devon, providing £5,000 per business towards adaption, mitigation and diversification activity.
  • Engage additional staff resources to support producers to diversify and access new markets. To include support and grants for accessing new markets; product promotion, realising export opportunities, assistance with diversification, and bringing together suppliers and buyers in line with the South West Food Hub Model
  • Seek £150,000 to support 150 additional training places in the agricultural sector, including in farm management, engineering and livestock and animal health certifications
  • Seek support for additional technical and higher skill training opportunities in agriculture, food & drink including across engineering, science based and management competencies and Agri-tech
  • Become an active partner in the South West Good Food Network,seeking to drive forward new collaborations around logistics and digital solutions, with the aim of utilising more of the food we produce close to
  • Implement a ‘Made in Devon’ campaign aligned with Buy with Confidence, seeking to promote the region as a food destination /quality supplier, and promoting local consumption and buying.
  • Seek additional grant support for retail businesses facing the double whammy of lockdown and now modification costs to operate, building on existing Government led programmes to enable stores within our hardest hit high streets to manage costs and supporting essential COVID-19 modifications
  • Seek to support existing Business Improvement Districts to enhance their offer, working with local BID teams and District / Town Councils to enhance, re-purpose and future proof the high street experience and our retail hubs as destinations.
  • Working closely with DWP, take forward an accelerated approach to redeployment of staff members made redundant by the retail sector, including providing access to short retraining courses and tailored employability support.
  • Implement a regional quality assurance scheme which promotes consumer confidence in safety on the high streetby building on the Buy with Confidence, approved trader scheme
  • Develop and implement a specific digital skills and support programme to capitalise on the online trading and digital opportunities for the sector.
  • Develop a ‘Late Payment’ pilot to support small business with cashflow,seeking to use small grants and a better approach to online invoicing to improve payment terms
  • Provide support for 150 additional sector skills places through the Sector Skills Training approach, with a focus on site operations, civils, trades, modern methods of construction and wider new and high demand construction
  • Take forward an enhanced programme around supporting businesses to champion sustainable construction, including additional training around sustainable supply chains and community wealth, new building skills and future building methods and materials and supply chains choices.
  • Public Sector Stimulus – Consider how local government can support the sector to grow through simplifying and streamlining procurementand planning This would include the publication of the public sector’s 3 year construction programme across Devon, providing an opportunity for construction businesses and other interested parties to align their supply chain offer
  • Support smaller construction business and trades to access support, new markets and supply chains by bringing together suppliers and SMEs with tier 1 construction companies and consider how local government can support the sector to grow through simplifying and streamlining procurement and planning policies
  • Support local employment and training – Work with the sector to maximise the value of existing projects for Devon, through agreeing local labour agreements to support employment and skills goals, and local procurement approaches to best utilise the local supply chain.
  • Ensure early delivery of housing schemes funded from the Housing Infrastructure Fund (South West Exeter, Tiverton, Cullompton, Barnstaple and Ilfracombe, Dawlish) to support the construction sector and provide new homes
  • Secure at least £15m additional town and high street funding to restart our hardest hit communities, making a case for new capital and revenue funding to support a number of our rural, coastal and market town communities.
  • Confirm and accelerate Future High Street Fund indicative awards to our towns, and sign off business cases for Bideford, Barnstaple and Newton Abbot
  • Improve consumer confidence through a coordinated approach to promoting our high streets, towns and communities, facilities, services and businesses, building local confidence to shop and visit safely and develop our digital retail offer
  • Extend the Work Hub Programme, securing £1m to build on the successful work hubs network and enable rural communities and smaller towns to grow their own local service provision, including options to develop community assets and hubs
  • Digital infrastructure investment – improve mobile and digital connectivity in rural areas through working with communities to maximise the national Rural Gigabit Voucher Programme and local Mobile Boost Voucher scheme, in addition to piloting new solutions where poor coverage still remains.
  • Transport Connectivity and Housing – develop community, town and city transport initiatives and infrastructure, including for cycling, buses, rail and other forms of sustainable transport – between and within communities. We will support the housing sector by accelerating Housing Infrastructure Fund supported projects and increasing affordable homes.
  • Seek increased investment to facilitate city / town centre living, with partners seeking to secure £1.5m for investment in and development of vacant high street property in 3 pilot locations, including Exeter and utilise local apprenticeship programmes to improve construction skills
  • Develop and secure investment for a city / town set of renewal plans – including sharing best practice and ideas develop proposals for future funding opportunities including One Public Estate, Land Release Fund, Coastal Community Funding, Zero-carbon pilots and Garden Communities programme.
  • Natural Capital Programme – secure £15m to develop projects to support flood prevention, landscape management, carbon sequestration and develop a Woodland Enterprise Zone including an Enterprise Hub, apprenticeship and skills programme.
  • Energy Infrastructure – £20m investment to enable smart energy management and renewable energy generation through upgrading the national grid network.
  • Work with Government to accelerate funding for Dawlish sea wall / rail infrastructure and A303 upgrades.
  • Bring together a Devon Skills Recovery Partnership, responsible for the delivery of relevant actions within the County’s Implementation Plan and instituting a “no wrong door” approach across core services
  • Support the campaign for a September / Opportunity Guarantee for Young People, seeking to ensure that every young person between 16-25 has access to a training or vocational learning place next academic year if they wish to take it.
  • Implement an enhanced Careers, Information, Advice and Guidance Service across Devon for Autumn 2020, covering both Young People and Displaced Adults. The partnership will be supported by an additional £75,000 towards communications and marketing costs.
  • Work with DWP, District Councils, CABs and other local economic and community partners to take forward a joined-up approach to redeployment into opportunities sectors such as Health and Social Care, building on the Sector Based Work Academy model to support individuals, in particular young people to retrain / redeploy into new / relevant roles
  • Seek £1m of additional resources towards a Sector Skills Response Package, focused on working with those leaving Tourism, Retail and other hard-hit sectors to train and remobilise. Where return isn’t an option, seek opportunities to career jump into opportunity sectors such as health, digital or engineering
  • Seek £500,000 of funding to implement an enhanced Volunteering / Traineeship / Apprenticeship approach, supporting partners to fast track development of traineeship / pre-apprenticeship opportunities for young people and adults alike. Seek to maximise opportunities in growth sectors such as health or digital roles.
  • Work with Government to secure an initial £1.5m of additional support towards employability / adult basic skills provision for Autumn 2020, including additional support for digital literacy, outreach and ‘career jumping’ opportunities (supporting those being displaced from or requiring upskilling in the Tourism, Retail and Construction sectors)
  • Seek funding for and implement a new £8m Technical Skills Development Programme across Devon, providing new opportunities within growth and foundation sectors (including digital, advanced engineering and manufacturing, health, tourism, construction and retail).
  • Seek to secure up to £7.5m of additional resources to increase the sustainability of apprenticeships, traineeships and wider learning, including through bursaries / maintenance support, wage subsidies, assistance with rural and access to education transport costs, support for digital equipment and connectivity; and other measures.
  • Secure additional support for Devon’s Training Provider Network and network of Employment and Skills Boards, supporting their ability to act as a first point of contact and support with Devon’s business community and training providers, and empowering them to support implementation of new programmes.
  • Work with the ESFA and wider partners to support measures around provider sustainability and growth, including support with financial hardship amongst training providers, and costs around modification and diversification linked to COVID-19
  • Seek up to £90m of resources from the Further Education Capital Programme, including resources to enhance digital capacity within our College and Provider Network to provide virtual learning and further modernise and grow the local FE estate
  • Seek to secure £10m towards a Green Skills Development Package for Devon, incorporating capital and revenue programme to be spent over the next three years to Fast-track relevant sector and employment opportunities
  • Secure up to £20m of additional innovation and skills development opportunities working with the County’s Universities and Colleges, with a focus on high growth and clean growth innovation and high value employment in opportunity areas such as health, green economy and advanced manufacturing and engineering.
  • Roll out an ambitious Domestic Energy efficiency and Energy Generation Pilot – a council tax pilot with an ask of £77.5m to support 37,000 households over 3 years to invest in energy efficiency and energy generation measures, stimulating demand for environmental technologies and construction sectors
  • Carbon In-setting Pilot – Working alongside Government, develop an appropriate regulatory framework for a pilot carbon in-setting approach, seeking to reduce / offset carbon emissions back through supply
  • Establish a Centre for Clean Mobility at Exeter Science Park – £3.75m – create a high-specification collaboration laboratory to be used for research, development and innovation, with strong industrial engagement to test autonomy within marine, off-highway, HGV, rail, and defence sectors.
  • Champion a SMART Aviation Cluster and Freeport Proposal – working with Exeter Airport and other partners – support the development of new classes of electrical and autonomous air vehicles, such as drones, 3 to 5 person green aircraft and commercial green aircraft, and linking together with the new Future Skills Academy led by Exeter College and additional innovation capacity within the local area.
  • Seek Government support of £1.83m for a comprehensive and future proofed Electric Vehicle and Shared Mobility infrastructure network across 58 of Devon’s communities with a population of over 1,100

Cllr Judy Pearce, Leader of South Hams District Council and Chair of Devon Districts Forum, added: “We are only now beginning to realise what the economic impact of the pandemic will be for Devon. This prospectus is exactly what we need, it outlines a clear way forward for job creation and investment.

“As Chair of the Devon Districts Forum, I am pleased to be able to say that all of the District Authorities in Devon have committed to working together and delivering this plan. As the fourth worst impacted county in the country, this prospectus will be central to Devon’s recovery and future growth.”

Melanie Squires, Regional Director, South West NFU, said: “Despite often being unseen down farm lanes or behind hedges, like the rest of the economy the farming community has had a significant shock from Covid-19 and will continue to deal with the after effects for some time, with the double whammy of so many having also diversified into the tourism and hospitality sector.”

Anthony Mangnall, MP for Totnes, said: “We have faced an unforeseen challenge in the form of Covid-19 and we now face the monumental challenge of rebuilding our economy. This document represents the views and thoughts of local leaders from politicians to business owners to college principles.

“It is focused on the many strengths of Devon’s economy as well as developing and expanding clean green growth opportunities, improving our digital and transport networks all with the aim of encouraging new jobs and business investment to our special and unique part of the United Kingdom.”

Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter, said: “It’s vital that we work together to help our communities through this crisis, as well as taking the opportunity to build on the lessons we’ve learned. I’m pleased to support Team Devon’s plan for a sustainable recovery.”

A more detailed plan and investment strategy is being developed by Team Devon to support the delivery of its actions, and it will be working in partnership with Government, Heart of the South West LEP and other agencies to implement the plan.

“Build Back Better” – a Covid-19 supplement to town Centres – Bill Gimsey Report

“Build Back Better” is an overused phrase at the moment bur Owl spotted this report a few weeks ago and now seems the right moment to post it. Its Author, Bill Gimsey, is a convert from cloning town centres (he has been CEO of Iceland) to something more individual. More reading for the new EDDC administration perhaps?

In 2013 he published a report on the state of the high street retail sector, The Grimsey Review, which led the Labour party to appoint him as an advisor. This was updated in July 2018 with a second edition of the review. The review highlighted the problem of the UK having too much retail space and suggested that the centres of cities and towns should focus on becoming community spaces.

Executive Summary

When our Prime Minister emerged from hospital after spending several days in intensive care being treated for Covid-19, he signaled a change in priorities. Quoting the Roman statesman, Cicero, he said, “the health of the nation should be the supreme law”.

 As this paper will argue, this ought to be put to the test in restoring our nation’s high streets and town centres. They are arguably the most symbolic representation of community wellbeing, yet shuttered shops and urban decay blight far too many areas. Rather than lift communities and strengthen social capital, they hold them back and breed isolation. Instead of acting as a catalyst for good health and neighbourliness, they’ve become a frontline for ill health and crime.

Faced with the huge challenge of rebuilding our high streets, we are presented with a golden opportunity to repair their neglected social fabric, lead a values-led period of social renewal and deliver lasting change.

Given the state of our battered local economies, this is no small task, yet this Grimsey Review COVID-19 supplement is optimistic we can rise to the challenge.

Out of the ashes and pandemic rubble will eventually emerge signs of recovery in every town up and down the country. Brave entrepreneurs will create businesses that reflect a new value system as people are appreciating spending less money, breathing cleaner air, noticing more wildlife and sharing a stronger sense of community. What is needed is a call to action, which encourages that process, removes the barriers to progress and facilitates change quickly.

This will require a huge shift in power from central government to local communities, putting the people best able to lead that change in charge. It will also require an understanding that the challenges facing our towns and high streets are simply too big for Westminster. They cannot be solved by pulling big levers in Whitehall. Our politicians’ job is to provide policies that empower communities to come up with solutions that are unique to their needs.The pandemic has changed everything in the sense that people have had to adapt to a life threatening crisis, change their behaviours quickly and a new normal is emerging. This paper examines the harsh economic facts largely exacerbated by an obsession to build more shops against a background where more people were switching to online shopping. Incredibly, this obsession still continues and more investment is going to end up misplaced and irrelevant. A recent YouGov poll revealed that only 9% of Britons want life to return to ‘normal’ after the coronavirus outbreak is over. People have noticed significant changes during the lockdown and they know a better life is possible – and our high streets have to be part of this. 

To achieve this better life, it will be incumbent on government to blow away some of the restrictions of the past and put in place devolved powers that enable local communities to act. Business rates on retail and hospitality premises, for example, which have been waived for a year, can easily be dumped and replaced with a simpler system during this time. Literally all parts of the economy will change; global supply chains will be challenged, local tourism will become even more important, the commercial property sector will need to wake up as home working or working closer to home becomes accepted practice. Manufacturing should return in a big way as we start to reject global sourcing, exploitation of cheap labour and environmental damage. We will also need to re-examine pay structures, understanding that a prosperous society needs to recognize and reward essential workers in a fairer way.

We can only hope the leaders of our towns have used the lockdown opportunity to pause and reflect – and that decisive action will follow. We need to see ambitious plans to give all communities a proper stake in their economy. Old consumption driven thinking must make way for healthier driven strategies that meet the desires of a younger generation, embracing seasonality, community and unique experiences.

This change has little to do with shops and everything to do with the community spirit and togetherness kindled by this pandemic. Unique places will emerge embracing the ‘new normal’, using technologies in very different ways. Climate change, which has not gone away, will climb back up the agenda and become the priority of the next generation who will also inherit the biggest public debt since World War Two. 

If we are going to come out of this period in better shape, then it will be because we have recognised the old model is broken. An exciting new model is now ready to be developed and implemented by inspired local leaders…

 This is a model that:

  1. Sees a massive shift in power away from central government to local communities to give everyone a stake in their town centres
  2. Puts sustainability and the environment at the heart of everything
  3. Is based on quality of life, experiences and not blind mass consumerism 
  4. Recognises and rewards great local leadership accordingly 
  5. Devolves power locally, removes constraints and allows local communities to develop their places to compete for people to live, work, play and visit
  6. Removes old taxation that has become inappropriate
  7. Encourages sectors to jointly manage risk in order to prosper 

Progress has been made since the Grimsey Reviews of 2013 and 2018 but it has not been as fast or as radical as it needs to be. Everyone has had a different experience during lockdown and many have recognised that the most important thing is our health. Collectively, we’ve had a real wake up and smell the coffee moment, except, ironically, it was a wake up and smell the ‘fresh air’ moment. 

Turning this precious realization into a better future will require a lot of hard work and determined rebuilding. The following recommendations are a good place to start.

Government report on climate change to guide East Devon strategy

A central government report issuing a ‘now do it’ plea over climate change will be used to help form East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) strategy.

[Here is a link to the report referred to – Owl]

EDDC said it ‘remains committed’ to reducing its carbon footprint after the government’s ‘committee of climate change’ report was issued.

The foreword to the report said the UK government must ‘seize the opportunity to make the Covid-19 recovery a defining moment in tackling the climate crisis’ and said ‘act courageously – it’s there for the taking’. Newly appointed portfolio holder for climate change at EDDC, Cllr Marianne Rixson, and her deputy Cllr Denise Bickley said they will be using the report to guide the council’s plans.

In summer 2019, EDDC became a signatory to the Devon Climate Emergency Declaration.

A spokesman for EDDC said: “Whilst recognising that it has set itself a challenging ambition, (the council) is determined to make positive changes over the next 20 years to reach this goal for the benefit of the planet, its communities, and residents’ health and wellbeing.”

In a joint statement, Cllrs Rixson and Bickley said: “Whilst this report is primarily for government, we intend to use the Committee on Climate Change report as a guide to help develop and enhance our own strategy. “Initial low-cost projects include tree planting and re-wilding.

“However, in order to achieve a substantial change in emissions, changes will be required to both housing and transport, which together contribute substantially to greenhouse gases.

“We must ensure that future housing is built to meet high environmental standards.

“Also, that transport emissions are reduced through behavioural change such as walking, where possible, cycling and car sharing. Increased use of public transport will play a significant role, once public confidence has been restored.

“As a rural area, we recognise too that investment will be essential in electric car charging networks.

“However, schemes such as these will require significant investment and government funding.

“Therefore, climate change projects should be on the top of the government’s agenda.

“In the meantime, we will play our part in encouraging green transport through electrification of our own white vehicle fleet.”


Budleigh beach clean-up crew ‘devastated’ by rubbish left in beauty spot

Volunteer litter pickers were left ‘devastated’ by the amount of rubbish found at a Budleigh Salterton beach in their first clean-up operation since lockdown restrictions were eased.

Volunteers helping in the Clean Beach Budleigh. Picture: Marta MarcotaVolunteers helping in the Clean Beach Budleigh. Picture: Marta Marcota

Usually Clean Beach Budleigh members and supporters take around an hour to remove the rubbish from a stretch of the beach from Lime Kiln Car Park to Otter Head.

According to group coordinator Marta Marcote, during the first clean-up since the lockdown restrictions were relaxed, it took volunteers an hour and a half to clean that section of the beach.

“Even so, we were only able to clean up the higher part of the beach – just 100 metres long,” said Marcota.

“We were devastated by what we found.

Items found during a beach clean in Budleigh. Picture: Marta MarcotaItems found during a beach clean in Budleigh. Picture: Marta Marcota

“We found several fire pits remaining from barbecues on the beach.

“Most of them had been loosely covered with a few clean pebbles, thereby obscuring what was underneath and making the hazard below even harder to see.

“Once we removed the pebbles, we could see what was below.”


Itesm found during a beach clean in Budleigh. Picture: Marta MarcotaItesm found during a beach clean in Budleigh. Picture: Marta Marcota

Marcota, who is a marine and environmental scientist, said they also found rusty nails and broken glass.

She added: “It was very dangerous because nails were pointing in all directions.

“It would have been very easy to stand on them, and for the nails to push through the sole of a shoe, sandal or flip-flop.

“It is easy to imagine what could happened to a bare foot – whether that of an adult, a child or a dog.

“Such metals and glass remain hidden in the surface of the beach unless someone bothers to pick them up.”

Clean Beach Budleigh was established with the help of the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) in 2018, organising its first beach clean in September of that year.

Since then, Budleigh resident Marcota has organised 12 beach cleans at Budleigh and the events normally cover 500 metres of the beach.

She organised the clean-up in June by advertising the event on Facebook and via the MCS website ‘to have a small group of people who would respect government rules about social distancing’.

Results of the clean-ups are sent to MCS which analyses the data and uses the results to raise awareness of pollution and tackle it at source in the UK.

Principal reassures parents after Exmouth college student tests positive for COVID-19

An Exmouth Community College student has tested positive for coronavirus, and their classmates and teachers told to stay at home.

This is where we need a “world class” test, track, trace and isolate system Boris! – Owl

 Becca Gliddon 
College principal Andrew Davis alerted parents and carers by writing on the school’s website today, July 3, saying the student tested positive for COVID-19 after going to hospital for an unrelated injury.

Mr Davis said the student’s tutors and classmates had all been contacted and asked not to attend Exmouth Community College as a precaution until Public Health England (PHE) advises the next steps.

The college said it had contacted PHE as soon as it had been made aware of the test result.

The principal said the student had been into college twice towards the end of June, once for a face-to-face socially-distanced classroom session with other students and a tutor, and again for a one-to-one meeting with a member of staff.

The college said there had been no other opportunity for the student to mix with other pupils while on the Exmouth campus, other than their classmates.

Mr Davis said the student was asymptomatic and had not shown any symptoms associated with coronavirus that would have led to them being told to stay away.

Writing to parents and carers, Mr Davis said: “The person concerned was an older student who had last attended college for a face-to-face session on Thursday 25th June.

“The teacher concerned, who maintained social distancing throughout the lesson by teaching from the front, and students, whose entry was managed by a member of staff to keep them two metres apart and sat at desks two metres apart, have all been contacted and asked not to attend college today as a precaution.

“It is our understanding that the student presented as asymptomatic and so there are no reports of, for example, coughing, which would have led to their removal from the session.”

He added: “The student also came into college on Tuesday 30th June for a socially distanced one-to-one session with a member of staff.

“These meetings take place in a large ventilated classroom with individual students allocated clean desks for each meeting.

“The member of staff has also been contacted and asked to not attend college until we receive further advice.

“For one-to-one meetings students are collected by staff from different entrances depending on the year group and walked off site at the end of the meeting.

“As the student was the last one-to-one meeting of the day no other students in the one-to-one sessions on that day will have been affected.”

The sessions for Year 10, Year 12, Key Stage 3 and Year 10 one-to-one meetings and keyworker/priority student sessions all take place in different areas of the college with students barred from going from one area to another.

Mr Davis said: “There was no opportunity for this student, while in college, to mix with other students apart from those who he was taught with who, as I say, have all now been contacted.

“As soon as we were made aware of the test result, we contacted Public Health England.

“Depending on the circumstances of when the infectious period was, we may then be advised that no action is required if they have not been onsite during the infectious period or alternatively children may have to remain at home and isolated.

“We are currently waiting for advice for Public Health England and have been advised that this could take up to 48 hours.

“While we await that advice and, at the risk of being overcautious, we have contacted all the students in the same class and anyone else who we think might have had any indirect contact with the student as a precaution to ask them to remain at home for now.”

The principal said the college has been following a number of measures to safeguard students and staff, and stop the spread of the virus.

These include staggered starts, regular handwashing, supervised staggered breaks and lunches, one-way systems, areas for different groups to socialise, and regular cleaning of equipment – such as chairs, tables, PE kit, keyboards – between each student use, well-ventilated rooms, and small student groups.

The college said Year 10 and 12 teaching groups were by invite only so that groupings could be managed, students were supervised by staff between lessons to maintain social distancing as far as possible, and staff and students were briefed each day at the start of the sessions to remind them about the importance of the safety measures in place.