Shining a spotlight on recycling and waste in Sidmouth and East Devon 

Cllr Denise Bickley (Independent East Devon Alliance, Sidmouth Town Ward) 

L: Cllr Denise Bickley. R: A pile of recycling waiting to be sorted at Greendale.

L: Cllr Denise Bickley. R: A pile of recycling waiting to be sorted at Greendale.

I’m writing my first column for Nub News linked to my ‘passion’ – the environment, litter and specifically this time to shine a spotlight on recycling and waste collections in the area.

Being both a member of East Devon District Council and Sidmouth Town Council, plus being the Chair of the Sidmouth Plastic Warriors I have a unique insight into the work of the teams in Streetscene and Suez, who do such a fantastic job.

I sit on the Recycling and Waste Partnership Board, which meets to discuss how the contract between Suez and EDDC is going, and gives us regular updates on the service.

There are complaints, of course, but the statistics regarding recycling and waste in East Devon are impressive. As members of the public we are the third partner in this system and we all need to do our bit to keep our recycling rates as high as they are.

The teams are stretched because of the following factors:

• More properties being built;

• Consumption high due to pandemic effects (working from home, self- isolation, internet shopping);

• Christmas-equivalent levels of collection every week since the pandemic started. Christmas week this year was unprecedented;

• Regular crews having to self-isolate.

There have unfortunately been some missed collections and some spillage complaints, but the vast majority of collections have been trouble-free.

This is all done for a tiny fraction of what houses spend on their council tax, which I did not realise before I was a councillor. A mere 7% of total council tax goes to EDDC. Of this 7%, 54% goes to Streetscene in total, with Recycling and Waste getting a mere 26% of the 7%.

To illustrate this, if we use the band D average council tax of £151.78 a month, 7% equals just £10.62 to EDDC, with just £2.76 (26%) per month for the complete recycling and waste service. Less than the price of a coffee, per month!

If there is litter left on the ground in your street when the crew have speeded through, maybe we could all be a little more tolerant?

Sidmouth Plastic Warriors are happy to give out litter pickers to anybody who would take a little responsibility for their road and a 2 minute walk around after the crew have been would be fantastic teamwork! Contact to find out more.

The massive Christmas tonnage should start to decrease now, so well done to the teams for getting through so well. Thanks to all of us too for helping East Devon to be the ninth-best recycling council in the country, whilst having the number one spot for least residual waste (that goes into our black bins) per household! That is all down to households actively recycling. What teamwork!

Lastly, remember that none of our waste goes to landfill – all non-recycling goes to the Energy from Waste Plant, to generate electricity.

Next time: reducing our carbon and waste footprints, circular economy and true recycling.

Cllr Denise Bickley with Cllrs Ledger, Jackson and Hayward in a trip to the recycling centre at Greendale

Covid in Devon’s care homes at highest level

Covid outbreaks in Devon’s care homes are at their highest level since the pandemic began.

BBC News

New figures presented to Devon County Council showed 160 outbreaks in care settings across Devon as of 10 January.

The number is far higher than the previous peak of just over 90 a year ago, with the total number of active outbreaks tripling in less than a month.

A council director warned the situation in care was “as tough as ever”.

Tim Golby, associate director of commissioning at the county council, warned that despite reports the pandemic may be easing, outbreaks were having a “massive impact” on the ability to discharge and support people from hospital.

“But we manage that,” Mr Golby said, “and we work with the market teams to get those homes clear of infection and work through all national protocols to make sure that eventually we can admit people once the infection is brought under control.”

Mr Golby was speaking to Devon County Council’s health and adult care scrutiny committee on Thursday, as reported by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

The government is providing an additional £60m to local authorities to support the social care response to Covid in January, with Devon receiving just under £900,000 from the fund.

The money is going towards increasing ventilation in care homes, enhancing the direct pay local authorities can offer to friends and family carers, and pay for temporary staff to cover increased staff absence.

MP blackmail claims: Tory William Wragg to meet police

A Conservative backbencher who accused Downing Street of trying to “blackmail” MPs seeking to oust Boris Johnson is to meet police to discuss his allegations. 

William Wragg said he will be speaking to a Met Police detective in the House of Commons early next week, after requesting a meeting with the force.

The MP, who wants the prime minister to quit, said he wanted to leave any probe to “experts” rather than No 10.

Downing Street said it had not seen any proof of the behaviour he alleges.

A spokesman said on Friday they were not investigating the allegations but would look “carefully” at any evidence presented to them.

It comes as Tory whips and No 10 try to shore up support for the prime minster ahead of civil servant Sue Gray’s report into a series of Downing Street lockdown parties which is expected next week.

Mr Johnson has been facing down an attempt from some Conservative MPs to oust him since he admitted attending a drinks event at No 10 during the first lockdown, although he says he believed it was a work event.

So far six Tory MPs have publicly declared no confidence in the PM, but more are thought to have submitted letters to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the backbench 1922 committee, who organises Tory leadership contests.

Under party rules, if 54 letters are submitted a no confidence vote is triggered which could result in a leadership election.

Mr Wragg, MP for Hazel Grove in Greater Manchester and chairman of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, first raised his concerns on Thursday and advised colleagues who feel threatened to go to the police.

He told the committee that Tory whips – the MPs in charge of party discipline – had threatened those suspected of wanting Mr Johnson out with the removal of government investment in their constituencies.

He also said he had received reports of government ministers, advisers and staff at No 10 “encouraging the publication of stories in the press seeking to embarrass” those suspected of lacking confidence in the prime minister.

Mr Wragg claimed the reports “would seem to constitute blackmail” – and as well as contacting police, affected MPs should contact the Commons Speaker.

He told the Daily Telegraph he would outline “several” examples of bullying and intimidation when he speaks to police.

“I stand by what I have said. No amount of gas-lighting will change that,” he said.

“The offer of No 10 to investigate is kind but I shall leave it to the experts.”

A Met Police spokesman said: “As with any such allegations, should a criminal offence be reported to the Met, it would be considered.”

After Mr Wragg made his allegations on Thursday, Christian Wakeford – who this week defected from the Conservatives to the Labour Party – said he was threatened he would not get a high school in his constituency if he did not vote in a certain way.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng later questioned Mr Wakeford’s claims, saying he had “never heard of anything like this” since becoming an MP but if it had happened it would be “very seriously regarded” by the government.

West worst affected by ambulance A&E waits

From today’s Western Morning News:

Ambulance handover delays at A&E departments in England improved slightly last week, though hospital pressures “remain high”, figures show. Nationally, a total of 14,961 delays of at least 30 minutes were recorded across all hospital trusts in the seven days to January 16, representing 18% of all arrivals. This is down from 23% in the previous week, which was the highest level so far this winter. 

Some 7% of arrivals last week (5,610) took more than 60 minutes to be handed over to A&E teams, down from 10% in the previous week, according to figures published by NHS England. 

A handover delay does not always mean a patient has waited in the ambulance as they may have been moved into an A&E department, but staff were not available to complete the handover. 

Analysis of the data by the Press Association shows that University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust reported the highest proportion of ambulance handovers that were delayed by at least 30 minutes last week (58%), followed by University Hospitals Bristol & Weston (53%), Gloucestershire Hospitals (51%) and Torbay & South Devon (49%). 

Royal Cornwall Hospitals topped the list for the proportion of arrivals that were delayed by more than an hour (41%), followed by University Hospitals Plymouth (39%), Torbay & South Devon (35%) and University Hospitals Bristol & Weston (34%). 

Hospital pressures in England “remain high”, with staff facing a growing number of routine checks as well as ambulance arrivals, NHS England said. 

More than 93% of general & acute beds were occupied last week, the equivalent of nearly 500 more adult patients per day than the previous week. 

Staff absences due to Covid-19 have fallen week-on-week in every region, though most areas are still reporting higher numbers than at the start of December. 

Separate figures published by NHS England yesterday show that just under half of all patients in acute trusts are being treated primarily for something else. Of the 14,588 patients reported as having the virus on January 18, 6,983 (48%) were not being treated principally for Covid-19. This is the highest proportion since these figures were first published in June 2021, and is up from 26% at the start of December, 2021. 

All hospital patients who have tested positive for Covid-19 need to be treated separately from those who do not have the virus, regardless of whether they are in hospital primarily for Covid-19 or not. But the growing proportion of patients who are in hospital “with” Covid-19 rather than “for” Covid-19 is another sign that the current wave of the virus has not led to the same sort of pressure on critical care as in previous waves. 

A total of 614 patients in all hospitals in England were in mechanical ventilation beds on January 18, compared with 773 at the start of December – well below the 3,736 recorded on January 24, 2021. 

Masks stay mandatory at Exeter secondary school

St Peter’s head says covid still here.

More evidence that Boris Johnson’s sudden “Freedom” announcement is not based on evidence. – Owl

Sam Sterrett

St Peter’s School in Exeter have made face masks mandatory, despite Boris Johnson saying school pupils no longer have to wear them from today (Thursday 20th January).

However, the school’s headteacher, Phil Randall, emphasised that covid has not gone away.

On St Peter’s Facebook page, Mr Randall wrote: “Despite the Prime Minister’s announcement earlier today regarding wearing of face masks in classrooms I will be requesting that students do wear them in classrooms as well as corridors in line with other local and national schools.

“This is because: Public Health predict increased covid in our area over the coming weeks. Our own evidence of increasing absences amongst students and staff indicate we should not be reducing approaches to keep our community safe.

“Wearing a face covering in indoor areas is a kind and thoughtful approach that supports our school community and our families, many of whom have vulnerable children and adults living with them

Therefore we will still be expecting all of our community to wear appropriate face coverings in corridors as well as classrooms. Please remember to bring a spare face covering and a suitable bag to keep them in.”

Spaffing the Cash – your cash

Research into Johnson’s planned Irish Sea bridge cost taxpayers £900,000 

Nearly £900,000 of taxpayers’ money was spent on a study commissioned by Boris Johnson that found it would be too expensive to build a bridge or tunnel between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said the research into the feasibility of a fixed link cost £896,681.

The Network Rail chair, Sir Peter Hendy, led the investigation, which found that a bridge would cost £335bn, while a tunnel would require a budget of about £209bn.

His report concluded that the project “would be impossible to justify” as “the benefits could not possibly outweigh the costs”.

In addition to the huge expense, the inquiry also noted that the necessary work would be incredibly challenging.

The report described how Beaufort’s dyke – an underwater trench on the most direct route between Scotland and Northern Ireland – would need to be “carefully surveyed” due to 1m tonnes of unexploded munitions being dumped there between the first world war and the 1970s.

Johnson previously talked up the creation of a fixed link but accepted the conclusion of the report.

The research was carried out alongside a wider review of connectivity in the UK, which cost £1,102,525.

The DfT said the total of £1,999,206 for both studies was the amount spent on consultancy fees and department staff costs.

Sir Peter led the review alongside his role at Network Rail, and did not receive additional pay.

Louise Haigh, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, said: “There is a cost of living crisis and the prime minister blew nearly £1m on an utterly infeasible vanity project. That’s enough to fill 18,000 potholes.

“This just shows the Tories’ sheer disrespect for public money.”

Willie Rennie, the economy spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: “This is a gobsmacking sum to have spent on a PR stunt. It sounds like something that the prime minister came up with at 2am at a Downing Street party.”

Mhairi Black, an SNP MP, said the bridge was an “unworkable, doomed from the get-go idea”, and added: “This just goes to show the Tories’ warped spending priorities. How many lateral flow tests could this have bought, or nurses’ salaries paid, or PPE purchased for those on the frontline in this pandemic?

“However, as daft as this idea was, it still promised to put £20bn of investment into the Scottish and Northern Irish economies. The prime minister must honour the spending commitments he made and deliver that money to Scotland and Northern Ireland so they can use it for worthwhile infrastructure proposals.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The purpose of the Union Connectivity Review was to examine, in detail, all aspects of transport connectivity between the nations to boost and deliver further opportunities for people, families and communities.

“As part of this detailed review, we consulted with the best engineers and technical consultants and undertook extensive social and geographical research to carry out a comprehensive study. This has informed our approach to rail, road and air, including making travel cheaper for all parts of the UK by reducing air passenger duty by 50% for domestic flights.”

Sue Gray is reported to have copy of “significant” email

The Guardian is reporting:

A significant email from a senior official warning Martin Reynolds not to hold the summer party on 20 May has now been obtained by Gray, first reported by ITV.

Cabinet Office sources said she had already been given the authority to search email records – which are retained even from departing officials. A Whitehall source said Gray is nearing the end of her inquiry and publication next week was very likely.

Allegations of bullying and blackmail by whips further debase Johnson

Now Operation “Thumb Screw” – Owl 

It is a remarkable feature of the present political landscape that the future governance of Britain rests on the varying, not to say wavering, bravery of Conservative backbenchers. Who, in other words, are they more frightened of? Like unwilling participants in a Westminster version of Squid Game, they are subject to pressures that are as diverse as they are intense, and appear to be in stalemate.

Is it the threats and alleged blackmail coming from special advisers and the party whips? These enforcers stand accused by William Wragg, himself a Tory MP and select committee chair, of bullying Tory MPs into supporting Boris Johnson. Or, depending on their majorities, are these hapless tribunes of their people more anxious about the anger of their electors? Do they stay awake at night worrying about whether their local associations, usually more loyal to the party’s leadership, will back them if they rebel against the prime minister?

Weighing such factors must leave little time for them to consider the wider national interest, or navigate the moral maze of Partygate. Sad to say, when politicians wrestle with their conscience, their conscience usually loses.

“Operation Save Big Dog” might sound cuddly – comical even – but, just like Big Dog himself, it could have a nasty side. As our reporting has revealed, insiders claim they were told to delete their texts and emails and effectively dispose of evidence relating to lockdown parties – advice that may have been unlawful. Downing Street has, however, denied these claims.

No one should be under the illusion that the Commons is some sort of kindergarten and the whips kindly nursery school teachers. Threats and malice are their trade. They maintain black books, and files, and spreadsheets on the private lives of elected members (from which information is occasionally leaked). The Johnson file is probably more extensive than most, ironically. They know where the bodies are buried, because they buried them. In some cases, TV shows such as The Thick of It and House of Cards look more like documentary than fiction.

What is perhaps new in the Johnson operation is the blatant leverage of public expenditure in certain parliamentary constituencies to force MPs to do what they are told. The allocation of regeneration funding, along with the relocation of government offices, to places chosen on the basis of their political significance rather than their merit has been well remarked on. The suspicion is that if some red wall community was wise enough to elect a Conservative MP, or another prosperous area is lucky enough to have a cabinet minister representing them, they have a better chance of the high street being done up, courtesy of the Treasury and the taxpayer.

The threat to withdraw such schemes from recalcitrant Tory backbenchers in marginal seats is another manifestation of the “spoils” system of politics. The intimidation is nothing new, but the novelty is that constituents will suffer because their MP wants to do the right thing. It represents another debasement of public life under this prime minister.

In the end, though, public opinion still matters the most. Defeat in a general election is the ultimate sanction on any MP – the most potent of threats. With hostile, disillusioned, defrauded voters, no MP will remain an MP for long. The signs are that many of the 2019 intake, who admittedly owe their seats to Mr Johnson, will have painfully short careers once the prime minister, having won his election, has no further use for them or the people who live in their constituencies. That may well have been one of the factors in the defection to Labour of the former Tory MP for Bury South, Christian Wakeford.

Even if they stay in the Tory party, Mr Wakeford’s former colleagues must wonder if they might be better off with someone less tainted leading them into the next election.

Staff blow whistle on Environment Agency that ‘no longer deters polluters’

Staff at England’s Environment Agency say it has been cut back to such an extent that they cannot do their jobs and the regulator is no longer a deterrent to polluters.

Rachel Salvidge

Three officers at the EA have described to the Guardian and Ends Report how they are increasingly unable to hold polluters to account or improve the environment as a result of the body’s policies.

The officers wish to remain anonymous because the EA’s chief executive, Sir James Bevan, has “been very clear that he will sack anybody that is seen to be openly criticising the agency”, one officer said.

The Environment Agency has a large budget but the officers say it is not being directed towards protecting or improving the environment. Government grants to the agency rose from £880m to £1.05bn over the past two years, and money for flood operations has steadily increased. But government funding for the agency’s environmental protection work has slumped from about £170m in 2009-10 to a low of £76m in 2019-20, and £94m last year.

As a result, work that does not generate any income for the agency, such as attending pollution incidents, has been deprioritised, say the officers. Last week the Guardian revealed that the agency would no longer respond to lower-impact pollution incidents.

One EA officer said there had been a “drive to make the agency almost entirely self-sufficient, so if you can’t charge for something it gets a lower priority, which is why a lot of the officer roles have been cut – those that go out to pollution events and inspect works … it’s been cut and cut and cut and left us where we are at the moment, which is with a very limited resource on that side.”

In a speech on Tuesday, Bevan signalled that he would like industry to eventually pay the full cost of its regulation, alongside tougher punishments for polluters that could lead to custodial sentences for the worst offenders.

A second officer said increases in charges and other agency income filled the gap left by dwindling government grants but the money did not find its way to frontline work. Instead it was directed to middle management, they said.

“Part of the theory of paying for a permit is that a certain percentage is used to tackle illegal activity that operates without one,” they said. “Yet frontline officers have to watch this money go elsewhere, usually to fill newly created management roles that have no impact on frontline duties. The only sectors to benefit are the operators who want to avoid meaningful regulation. The Environment Agency appears to be making a choice to direct current funding away from frontline water quality.”

Other moves by the agency that are said to stifle fieldwork include “new incident teams that don’t leave the office” and the “removal of lease cars to attend incidents”.

Issuing permits for a potentially polluting activity, such as discharging effluent into a river, brings money into the agency, but one officer said that when making a decision on the activity, “we’re told, largely through the permitting process, to give business the benefit of the doubt, rather than the environment.

“Unless you can find a 100% solid reason not to grant something, you will grant it. The precautionary principle, which is what a lot of these decisions should be based on, is not prevalent … we don’t really get to use it.”

Permitting decisions are further undermined by the patchy nature of the agency’s data, according to the insiders. “It’s all tied up with the fact that our monitoring now is a lot poorer,” one officer said. “When you try to make a decision on an impact of something, it’s so much more difficult to prove because the data isn’t there any more. Priority is given to the applicant rather than the environment unless it’s absolutely clearcut.”

The upshot is that the agency’s funding and operational decisions have “resulted in a regulator that is toothless,” said one officer. “Should a polluter be caught, any tools that were at [its] disposal to take action have been systematically removed … Officers are actively encouraged not to take enforcement action, and asked to find another solution. We are no longer a deterrent to polluters.”

There is considerable anger among staff that “those who adhere to the legislation are paying significant sums, whilst those that chose to ignore the legislation escape any charge or meaningful punishment,” according to one officer.

Another officer said the reduction in enforcement activity would “embolden people to break the law because they know that there’s not really a strong police force out there watching over them and able to take any form of significant action against them”.

The overall feeling is that areas such as water quality are “no longer a priority and the environment in most cases is expendable. There appears to be a direction aimed at working alongside water companies, industry and agriculture, rather than regulating them.

“The Environment Agency is as far removed from the ‘polluter pays’ principle as it has ever been, and what is most concerning is that this appears to be by design,” said one.

Being unable to get out into the field to do the jobs they were hired to do has also taken its toll on staff morale, according to the officers. “Morale is so low, and the main reason for that is our poor performance on water quality and enforcement – it upsets people when they see the stuff they’re passionate about being red-carded and ignored,” said one officer.

Another said: “The majority of staff joined the Environment Agency because of a vocation for environmental protection, and their morale is at rock bottom because they are being asked to ignore this vocation with no visible justification.”

Another officer said: “You’ve got a lot of very passionate, very well meaning people, very often forbidden from doing their jobs to the full. They join the agency because they care, they really want to make a difference, [but then] their ambitions are invariably stifled and slowly blunted by an organisation that just grinds them down and gives them very few opportunities to make a difference.”

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “Our staff are vital to our work to protect the environment, people and wildlife from harm, and we are committed to providing a healthy and high-quality working environment.

“Our most recent employee people survey highlights many positive aspects of working at the Environment Agency – with staff engagement at 68% and the majority reporting they like their job, feel supported in their health, safety and wellbeing, and want to stay within the organisation. However, we are not complacent and understand the last few years have been particularly challenging for all public servants. We continue to listen to and act upon feedback from our staff as a key priority.”