Richard Holden: Access to cash. Here in County Durham, it matters to voters. Sunak should help to guarantee it.

28 Sep

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

“Cash is King”. In the City of London that means liquidity, numbers on paper – but what it boils down to is freedom of action when things get tight.

For many of my constituents, it means something slightly different: it means hard currency and it means control. When I’m away in Westminster, I rarely use notes and coins. Transactions happen at the touch of a card or, more likely, at the push of a few buttons on my phone.

In the ‘real world’ of my constituency, though, cash is still very important. Recently, while I was queueing outside the Golden Fish Inn on Delves Lane to pick up fish and chip, mushy peas and some cans of pop for the team who’d been out leafleting, I remembered that the chip shop is still cash only. A quick dash across the road to get some money from the cash machine and all was well.

But for many in my community – particularly those on tight budgets, pensioners, and people trying to manage their way out of debt – cash is what they live by. It’s easy to manage because once it’s gone, it’s gone. You can take £20 to get some shopping for the next few days, or take £10 out with you to get a few pints (yes, London readers: you really can get ‘a few pints’ for £10 in Consett) and go home not having spent more than you intended to. Access to physical cash remains crucial.

There has been a big shift under Covid-19, and the Golden Fish Inn is now unusual. Shops and businesses which were ‘cash only’ are fewer and further between.

Even my Wolsingham local, the Black Lion (where during the election campaign the regulars didn’t bat an eye as the Education Secretary and I grabbed a couple of pints, picked eggs and played pool poorly one evening) a staunchly cash-only wet pub until lockdown has now got a card machine. But in North West Durham generally it’s cash-and-card, not just card. Card only is exclusive of those in the most need, as the recent transformation away from cash in Sweden has shown.

The issue of access to cash was highlighted a few weeks ago, when I got a call from a small local shop in Billy Row, a small village near Crook in the south part of my constituency. The shop is basically open from first thing until late evening, seven days a week, provides essentials and has a cash machine inside.

It also has a post office counter, open dor much more restricted hours. Post Office Ltd had got in touch with them to say that the contract with the cash machine operator had expired, and the machine would be coming out for good in a matter of months. The result, the shop keeper told me, was that it would probably end the business and the shop in the village.

Why? Because a lot of local people budget use cash, and they don’t want to only be able to withdraw it at certain times on certain days from the Post Office counter, when to check the balance means it being printed off and passed over before they know if and how much they can take out.

It also means the workers who swing by on their way by in the morning to pick up a can, paper, packet of fags and grab some cash for lunchtime wouldn’t carry on doing so. And for the pub across the green, it means a lifeline for the business (being able to deposit and do basic banking) and access to cash for customers would go too.

A short, local campaign, a bit of local media, touching base with LINK (who were superb) and a few letters to senior management all helped – and the Billy Row cash machine will stay.

But it got me talking to people about how important cash is more broadly. I discovered that in one of the least affluent parts of my constituency, the only nearby cash machine charges £2 a go. That’s a lot to get access to your own money when you’re on a tight budget, and just want to grab so cash to pay to top up your electric meter, pay your hairdresser or grab some bits and pieces from the local shop or sandwich shop. So I’m now campaigning to get a free-to-use machine there to replace it and reduce what has been called in some quarters the ‘poverty premium.’

In the months since I was elected, it’s often these day-to-day issues: cash machines, speeding, unadopted roads, street-lighting, potholes, low-level crime and anti-social behaviour that I’ve noticed my Labour predecessors didn’t try (or at least not very hard) to do anything about.

Either they felt it was beneath them (and too many Labour councillors think these issues are beneath them still), or they were too busy concentrating on planning the revolution to deal with the issues that mean so much in people’s everyday lives.

Throughout the global pandemic, the Government has stood up in an unprecedented way to support jobs and businesses across the country. My constituents know that nothing comes for free, and that the colossal short-term support that has been provided to save jobs and businesses cannot be provided in the long-term.

The broader levelling-up agenda – the defining mission of this Government – needs to be the focus, and delivering on key manifesto promised on hospitals, police numbers, nurses and doctors must be the overarching focus post-Coronavirus.

But now that the budget is delayed until spring, we have a window of opportunity for the Chancellor and his team to also step back, and target support for schemes and policies that can really deliver those smaller changes that make a difference to families and communities in the ‘Blue Wall’, and also pockets in every constituency.

Not all of it needs to cost the earth – and in some cases, need not cost anything. Access to cash is one of these issues in the broader Treasury remit, and needs to be looked at. With a bit of time, we can drill down into the long-term issues that make communities feel left behind, isolated, ignored and yes, ripped off.

By listening to them, rather than talking at them, we can avoid the fate of our Labour predecessors across the newly Blue constituencies by getting things done on the ground that make an immediate difference to people’s lives, alongside our broader ‘levelling up’ agenda.

Bernard Jenkin: A herd immunity policy would mean hundreds of thousands dead. If that’s what’s meant by a Swedish option, forget it.

28 Sep

Bernard Jenkin MP is Chair of the Liaison Committee, and MP for Harwich and North Essex.

Some suggest that latest renewal of some restrictions to reverse the resurgence of Covid19 is over-reaction or shows the Government to be preoccupied with the wrong risks. And insist that Sweden is the example that we should now follow.

This denies some basic facts of viral spread. If R-number remains above one, then matters will continue to get worse. The timescale may be hard to predict, but eventually hospital beds would fill up and far more people would die or be permanently damaged by the illness. If R is brought below one, life can return to nearer normal again.

People who invoke ‘herd immunity’ must be honest about what they want, and prepared to defend the likely outcomes of this policy.

The Office for National Statistics estimate is that fewer than eight per cent of people in the United Kingdom have coronavirus antibodies. Given the official death toll of around 40,000 people so far, this is in line with what we would expect from a disease with a mortality rate of slightly under one in every hundred.

This means that, in order to reach general population immunity without a vaccine, at least a further half of the population would have to contract Covid-19 – approximately 30 million people. Given that tens of thousands have died so far, it is not an exaggeration to say that infecting this many would be likely to result in hundreds of thousands of further deaths.

As millions fell ill, they would require hospitalisation, overwhelming the hospitals – even the Nightingale hospitals. While advances in treatment and medicines can reduce the lethality of this disease and the length of a hospital stay, they cannot prevent a patient needing a hospital bed in the first place.

As we ran out of bed space, many would be unable to access basic care. We know that this is likely, not because of any predictions, but because it very nearly happened in the spring.

During the two weeks from the 25th of March, the proportion of English ICU beds occupied by Covid-19 patients trebled – from 20 per cent to almost 60 per cent. A reminder: this test to hospital capacity was caused by fewer than one in ten people in the UK contracting Covid-19, not half the population.

These are verified, confirmed facts about the spread of the disease in the UK. To claim that these facts are incorrect would require an explanation of why the NHS recorded tens of thousands of deaths and hospitalisations from Covid-19, or of why the ONS has not seen tens of millions of people with coronavirus antibodies.

In the absence of a credible explanation for this, we are left with the simple fact that more than 90 per cent of the UK has yet to be exposed to a disease far more virulent than seasonal ‘flu.

Yes, Sweden appears to have avoided the wave of deaths of countries such as the UK and France, while also managing to avoid the draconian spring lockdowns and, so far, the rising second wave of the oncoming winter. So why can’t we mirror its success?

The populations of the United Kingdom and Sweden differ significantly. Moreover, the absence of a national lockdown in Sweden does not mean that the government of Sweden did nothing at all.

First, the population of Sweden is healthier than in the UK. About 20 per cent of Swedes is obese: the UK’s figure is 27 per cent. The average Briton smokes more than 100 more cigarettes per year than the average Swede. This means that, for the average Swede, Covid-19 is a less deadly disease.

Second, Swedish people are more dispersed than in the UK. Sweden has 25 people per square kilometre: the UK has 275. In the UK where the most common household type is a family home with children, but in Sweden more than 50 per cent of people live alone.

So the Coronavirus is far less likely to spread between people in Sweden, because they are less likely to live with someone they could infect. This lower rate of spread means that it is easier for testing, tracking and tracing to suppress the virus. When people already live alone, and far away from other people, they are less likely to have spread the disease to others, lowering the burden on a national track and trace system.

Finally, Sweden may not have imposed a national lockdown, but people there are following social distancing guidelines. According to data seen by the BBC, the average Swede has fewer than one third of the social contacts they had before the pandemic, and surveys from August suggest that almost 90 per cent of people in Sweden are continuing to follow the government’s advice on distancing from other people.

Studies also suggest that far from everyone in Sweden having been infected with Coronavirus (‘herd immunity’), rates of cumulative infection range from six per cent to 30 per cent – but all estimates still leave millions of people still vulnerable to the disease.

Taking all these facts into account, what has happened in Sweden is not a quick rush to mass exposure, followed by population immunity. As before, there is very little evidence that Sweden has seen levels of Coronavirus exposure to put them on the brink of reaching herd immunity. Proponents of this theory require a serious account of how multiple studies have missed millions of infections and recoveries.

Indeed, were Sweden to have achieved herd immunity, the second spikes being seen in Spain and other European countries should not be taking place. This is because, extrapolating backwards from the number of Coronavirus deaths in these countries, they would have already reached a similar level of infection as Sweden.

The more plausible explanation is that the government of Sweden has used social distancing, extensive testing and an effective track and trace system to systematically monitor the pandemic.

This path, in principle, is available to the United Kingdom, but it requires a far more testing and contact tracing than we currently have – which is why military planners and commanders should be brought in to help scale up this part of the response. The current level of social mixing and trace-based isolation is allowing thousands of new cases per day, and this number is growing. Until a vaccine is developed, massively increased test, track and trace is the only way forward. More restrictions are a poor substitute.

To be clear: mass exposure is indeed one way out of the crisis. But those advocating it must be utterly clear that this extraordinary human cost is something that they are willing to have others pay.

Steve Bell: Corbynism achieved power in Brighton and Hove. It failed spectacularly.

28 Sep

Cllr Steve Bell is Leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton and Hove Council.

In July, Labour’s minority administration at Brighton and Hove City Council collapsed – just a little over a year after the 2019 May local elections.

When Labour lost two councillors over alleged anti-Semitic racism and had a third councillor suspended pending an investigation, the Greens seized power and have now taken over minority control.

The collapse was a shameful end for a Momentum-backed Labour Administration that destabilised the city, brought Brighton & Hove into disrepute, and consistently let its residents down.

Labour ultimately fell after failing to live up to its promise to be an anti-racist council.

This tumultuous administration, which lasted little more than a year after the local elections on 2nd May 2019, was characterised by resignations, apologies, broken promises, financial mismanagement, and weak leadership from start to finish.

Labour repeatedly broke its trust with the people of this City who elected it, with its broken promises hurting our most vulnerable, time and again.

Its decisions led to a collapse of the Home to School Transport Scheme, putting children with a disability at risk, and culminating in Labour facing an independent investigation from the Local Government Association.

Another such investigation may well be on the cards after it was recently reported that disabled groups were not adequately consulted by Labour on the discriminatory road and cycle lane changes recently introduced that reduced disability access to the beach front.  And in the process, while Labour said in its manifesto it would ‘protect and support the many small businesses that ensure the strength of our city during times of economic uncertainty’ Labour instead left traders on Brighton’s famous seafront strip struggling to pay their council tax and make ends meet after closing the road – and left office with Brighton & Hove languishing as a ‘below average resort’ according to a tourism survey of Britain’s seaside towns.

Labour let down council house tenants by rediverting millions of pounds in the Housing Repairs Budget on administrative changes to bring the service in house, and then added insult to injury by abandoning its promise to build 500 council houses.

While Labour promised voters in its Manifesto that it would provide more public open space in the City for residents, including those without gardens, it instead pushed through plans to build on 16 ecological sites in the urban fringe despite there being no need, with the Council Leader breaking her own promise to her constituents to oppose any proposals for the development of urban fringe land at Whitehawk Hill in her East Brighton ward along the way.

Most damagingly for our City, while Labour claimed to have sustained a reputation for Brighton & Hove as being the most inclusive city in the world, it left having unforgivably failed on its pledge to be an anti-racist council. Labour’s Council Leader did not properly stand up to antisemitism when it occurred in her administration, appearing to put power before anti-racism, with councillors suspended and under investigation for antisemitism remaining in her group. In doing so, the Council Leader failed to back up her own words at the Budget that Brighton & Hove is a City that is ‘inclusive and welcoming to all’.

Politically, the Council Leader failed to provide leadership in her own party, not commenting or providing clarification when the local Argus newspaper reported on a document outlining infighting and bullying in the Labour Party in which she was mentioned many times and attracting anger for apparently not listening to democratic motions of over 50 per cent of Labour branches opposing the development of local green space at Whitehawk Hill.

The fact that Labour collapsed over racism and ended with the shame of the Leader of our City Council being called upon to resign by a spokesman for Labour Against Antisemitism is a stain on our city. It has attracted national attention and damaged the reputation of Brighton & Hove to an extent that will be hard to recover from.

Labour’s constant failure to deliver for our City resulted in eight public apologies in a little over 12 months, culminating in Labour’s Finance spokesman saying he was ashamed of being a Labour councillor.

In the end, seven Labour councillors rebelled when the Council Leader tried to desperately hold onto power by arranging a power-sharing agreement with the Greens. These councillors knew the game was up and the dysfunction for our city had to come to an end.

This Council needs a Leader and councillors with the strength and integrity to stand up to racism of all kinds.

Corbynism failed spectacularly in Brighton and Hove and it will be a long time before the people of this City put their trust in Labour to run their City Council again.

Calling Conservatives: New public appointments announced. Chair of the East West Railway Company – and more

28 Sep

Eight years ago, the TaxPayers’ Alliance reported that “in the last year, five times more Labour people were appointed to public bodies than Tories”.

It currently reports that almost half of avowedly political appointees last year owed their allegiance to Labour Party, compared to less than a third for the Conservatives.

Despite the selection of some Party members or supporters to fill important posts, over time, the Conservatives have punched beneath their weight when it comes to public appointments.  One of the reasons seems to be that Tories simply don’t apply in the same number as Labour supporters.

To help remedy this, each week we put up links to some of the main public appointments vacancies, so that qualified Conservatives can be aware of the opportunities presented.

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Independent Committee on Police Conduct – Members

“The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigates the most serious and sensitive incidents and allegations involving the police in England and Wales. It also oversees the police complaints system, and sets the standards by which the police handle complaints. The IOPC carries out hundreds of investigations into incidents and allegations involving the police each year. These include investigations into: deaths or serious injuries during or following police custody; police shootings; allegations of use of excessive force. The IOPC is seeking up to six non-executive board members, including one Senior Independent Director. The responsibilities of the non-executive members will include ensuring robust governance and financial management of the organisation; setting and promoting the strategic aims and values of the IOPC; providing support, advice and constructive challenge to the Director General in the carrying out of his/her functions; and monitoring and reviewing organisational performance and contributing to the efficient and effective running of the IOPC.”

Time: 18-24 days per annum.

Remuneration: £350 per diem.

Closes: 05 October

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Advisory Committee on Business Appointments – Members

“ACOBA provides independent advice on applications submitted under the Business Appointment Rules from former ministers, senior civil servants and other Crown servants. In doing so it advises on the conditions that should apply to new appointments or employment after individuals have left Crown service. It plays a vital role in ensuring that the Business Appointment Rules are implemented fairly, sensibly and transparently… Members will: play a full and active part in ACOBA’s work, engaging in the collective consideration of applications (usually by email); taking account of the relevant factors and information; and challenge where necessary the information or recommendations presented; support the wider aims of the Chair in relation to policy and procedure; attend and contribute to between 3 and 5 ACOBA meetings per year (in London or virtually), and occasional attendance at casework related meetings arranged where necessary; ensure the confidentiality of individual applications and associated discussions, whilst operating within the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and Data Protection Act 2018; [and] agree an Annual Report.”

Time: 1-2 days per month.

Remuneration: £3,000 per annum, plus expenses.

Closes: 09 October

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Sea Fish Industry Authority – Chair

“As we approach life outside of the EU, Seafish will play a pivotal role in navigating the UK seafood industry through this once-in-a-life-time opportunity. As a non-departmental public body Seafish supports our ambitious vision for sustainably managed seas while securing a profitable future for all sectors of the seafood industry. The effective care and management of waters in our exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and the precious resources within it, is critical to ensuring our fishing and seafood industry grows sustainably to meet the demands of consumers. Given this period of great change, the successful candidate will provide vision and strong strategic leadership to Seafish, working collaboratively with a wide range of stakeholders and partners.”

Time: 30 days per annum.

Remuneration: £18,000 per annum, plus expenses.

Closes: 16 October

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East West Railway Company – Chair

“Looking for a new and exhilarating challenge leading a visionary UK based infrastructure delivery organisation? Excited by the thought of positively challenging industry norms and inspiring a team to surpass customer expectations? Then look no further than the opportunity to chair the Board of the East West Railway Company – a company at the forefront of the changing landscape of the rail industry, delivering a multi-billion pound rail link with services connecting Oxford, Milton Keynes, Bedford and Cambridge and places in between. The East West Railway Company (EWR Co) was set up as a company in 2017, and constituted as an arms-length body of the Department for Transport in September 2018. It was created to drive forward the delivery of the East West Rail project – a new direct line, providing much-needed East West connectivity to unlock the economic potential of the Oxford Cambridge Arc – supporting new jobs and communities, as well as reducing journey times, congestion and travel costs for residents and commuters.”

Time: 2 days per week.

Remuneration: £75,000 per annum.

Closes: 19 October

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Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – Small Business Commissioner

“The role has six broad elements: setting the strategic direction of the organisation and delivering against a robust business plan; raising the awareness and profile of the Commissioner and the Office of the SBC; providing strong leadership to your staff; overseeing investigations into complaints and publishing outcomes; leading the Prompt Payment Code compliance and supporting Code reforms to ensure it plays a more significant role in driving improved payment practices; and performing the role of Accounting Officer for the organisation… The successful candidate will demonstrate in their application all of the following: strategic outcome-focussed leadership and delivery; targeted partner engagement to raise the profile of organisation; outstanding communication, interpersonal and influencing skills; encouraging staff to excel in the delivery of corporate objectives; driving a culture of innovation and continuous improvement; and evidence-based decision making.”

Time: Full-time.

Remuneration: £120,000 per annum.

Closes: 25 October

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Coal Authority – Chair

“Help us make a better future for people and the environment in mining areas. The Chair has the following leadership responsibilities: effective, cooperative and inclusive leadership of the Board that will provide sound strategic direction. This includes enabling a high standard of discussion; helping to steer the Coal Authority by collaborative working across Government; and ensuring that systems are in place to provide Board members and the Executive team with the support they need to carry out their roles;
Working with the Board to ensure that they and the Executive team have an appropriate and diverse range of skills, experience and outlook; offering support and counsel to the Executive team while holding them to account and providing constructive challenge on the delivery of the Coal Authority Business Plan; and maintaining clear and effective channels of communication with internal and external stakeholders and acting as an ambassador for the Coal Authority.”

Time: Five days per month.

Remuneration: £27,050 per annum, plus expenses.

Closes: 25 October

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Regulatory Policy Committee – Chair

“Formed in 2009, and a BEIS Non-departmental Public Body (NDPB) since 2012, the RPC’s role is to provide Government with external, independent scrutiny of proposed new regulatory and deregulatory measures. It assesses the quality of evidence and analysis used by departments to inform their regulatory proposals, and by doing so, helps ensure that the Government produces better regulatory outcomes for businesses, civil society, charities and other non-government organisations. The RPC is accountable to Parliament through the BEIS Permanent Secretary and to the BEIS Secretary of State and through the Department’s Principal Accounting Officer in respect of its use of public funds… To lead a committee of independent members, who provide robust and objective advice to government, parliament, and the wider public regarding the quality of evidence and analysis supporting decisions on proposed changes to legislation that impact or regulate businesses.”

Time: Two days per week.

Remuneration: £500 per diem.

Closes: 25 October

WATCH: Gupta – “The best way we can protect lives” is by allowing “the infection to spread among those who are not vulnerable.”

27 Sep