Izzi Seccombe: Conservative councils are working hard to safely return to normal life

5 Aug

Cllr Izzi Seccombe is the Leader of Warwickshire County Council and the Leader of the Conservative Group of the Local Government Association.

The recent lockdowns in Leicester and much of Northern England are a timely reminder that Cornavirus has not gone away, that for all of us many restrictions still remain in place, and that unfortunately it is unlikely that life will return to normal for some time.

However, since my last article for Conservative Home, at the end of May, the nation as a whole has experienced a significant relaxation in the Covid-related restrictions, including the re-opening of restaurants, pubs, cinemas, hairdressers, hotels, and campsites and various other types of businesses on July 4th.

In the run-up to what became known as ‘Super Saturday’ councils played a crucial role in supporting businesses, venues, and high streets, as well as some of our own civic amenities and services, to prepare for the re-opening and in communicating to residents the changes that were being put in place.

However, in order for our high streets to re-open the businesses that had previously operated there had to still be in existence. The fact that many of them were was in large part due to the decisive action that the Government and councils took during the preceding months.

As Conservative Home readers will be aware, the Government has provided an extensive package of support to workers and businesses throughout the crisis, including the furlough scheme, business rates relief, the Small Business Grants Fund, the Hospitality and Leisure Grants Fund, and the Discretionary Grants Fund.

Local government was the delivery mechanism for much of this support and councils have worked hard to distribute almost £11 billion to more than 800,000 eligible businesses.

For many councils this has involved responding proactively and flexibly to the unprecedented circumstances; for example, by setting up dedicated teams and redeploying staff to process applications as well as using websites, social media, and traditional media to reach businesses that were eligible for funding but for whom they did not have the relevant information.

This provided a lifeline to struggling businesses worried about their future and I am extremely proud of the work that Conservative councils undertook in the months and weeks preceding the easing of the restrictions.

For example, Medway Council has processed and issued more than £35 million in financial support to businesses overall, and more than £1.6 million on top of that to small businesses specifically as part of the Government Discretionary Grants Fund.

To highlight just one example from my own county, Warwick District Council has issued 2,395 payments totalling £31,080,000 to local businesses, representing a 93.8 per cent payment rate.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Midlands, Walsall Council has a 94.6 per cent payment rate and it is joint top with Dudley Council, also Conservative-led, in the ‘league table’ of councils in Birmingham and the Black Country for the number of grants paid.

Of course, whilst keeping businesses afloat so that there was a functioning high street to return to in July was essential it was also critical that people were confident enough to return to their old shopping habits when they were permitted to do so.

Again, we in Conservative local government were grateful for the additional funding that we received from central government to help facilitate this.

For example, the £50 million ‘Reopening High Streets Safely Fund’ was used by councils to introduce a range of practical measures ahead of July 4th, including new signs, street markings and temporary barriers, and by businesses to adapt their services, for example by introducing contactless payment facilities.

Marketing campaigns were also launched in councils across the country to explain the changes to the public and reassure them that their high streets were safe places to visit.

For example, in Harborough the district council sought to reassure shoppers with a number of proactive measures, including deploying council officers in high visibility jackets to provide information and advice, setting up hand sanitiser stations and using street stencilling to indicate where people should queue.

In addition, in collaboration with Leicestershire County Council, road closures were introduced to facilitate social distancing and safe queuing, thus giving people greater confidence to return.

Meanwhile, Warwick District Council has worked with its market operators to put in place a phased return of the popular weekly markets in Warwick and Kenilworth whilst also introducing free parking in all of its off-street cark parks.

However, whilst many suburban shopping centres are seeing increasing numbers of people returning each week, concern has been expressed about city centres and larger shopping areas.

Again, Conservative councils are doing all that they can to ensure that these are safe places which people feel confident visiting.

Over 80,000 jobs in Westminster depend directly on the hospitality industry and the city council has worked with landowners, businesses and residents to develop more than 50 separate street-wide schemes that deliver outdoor dining areas. These include footway widening, providing tables and chairs in former parking spaces, and, in some cases, timed pedestrianisation of streets.

Furthermore, whilst the Business and Planning Bill was going through Parliament, the council introduced its own interim scheme that allowed businesses to trade outdoors. For example, a fast track tables and chairs licensing scheme, which costs businesses just £100, and temporary events notices, allowed businesses to get up-and-running outdoors within a week.

As we enter August, with the advent of the Government’s ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ scheme and many of us enjoying a staycation, it is to be hoped that domestic tourism will give a much-needed boost to the economy and Conservative councils have led the way in highlighting the many great things that there are to do in the UK.

For example, in Medway, the council is actively promoting its own heritage attractions, such as Rochester Castle, The Guildhall Museum, and Historic Dockyard Chatham, all of which have reopened and are welcoming visitors again.

Clearly, the battle against Coronavirus is not yet won, but I know that in the months ahead, Conservative councils will continue to do all that they can to support their communities and get their local economies going again as part of the national recovery effort.

Eric Kaufmann: A chilling effect is taking place at British universities. An Academic Freedom Bill can change that.

4 Aug

Eric Kaufmann is Senior Fellow, Policy Exchange and Professor of Politics, Birkbeck College, University of London.

Conservatives need to put as much emphasis on the drift of the culture as they traditionally have on questions of economics and foreign policy. If not, it is uncertain whether a culture of open debate, tolerant of conservative speech, can survive.

Universities are where many cultural trends begin. Our recent Policy Exchange report, Academic Freedom in the UK: Protecting Viewpoint Diversity, shows the scale of the challenge that those committed to free exchange face. This is not just about newsworthy events such as the no-platforming of Amber Rudd from Oxford or dismissal of Jordan Peterson from Cambridge. Beneath the surface lies a far more pervasive threat to academic freedom: political discrimination, leading to self-censorship.

Our report draws on the largest randomly-selected survey of British academics to date. It finds that just nine percent identify as right-wing, falling to seven percent among currently active scholars in the social sciences and humanities. This is largely caused by the relationship between advanced education and left-wing views, but hostility to conservatives may be a contributing factor.

Among right-wing scholars, one in three report that they have self-censored their views in research and teaching “for fear of consequences to [their] career”, three times the reported rate for centre-left academics. Two in three academics would be uncomfortable or uncertain about sitting next to a gender-critical scholar at lunch. And just three in 10 academics in the social sciences and humanities – of which 80 per cent are Remainers – say a Leaver would be comfortable expressing their Brexit view to a colleague.

These perceptions are grounded in an accurate appraisal of the costs of speaking freely: a third of academics would discriminate against a Leaver in a job application, and an even larger share would mark down a right-leaning grant proposal. Eight in 10 academics aren’t Leavers, Tory voters or gender-critical feminists, the main groups facing discrimination. This means that political discrimination, and the loss of freedom that goes with it, is invisible to most academics.

However, for the minority who are affected, these threats are all too real. The combination of political discrimination and the ripple effects of dismissal campaigns raise threat perceptions, creating a “chilling effect” that shuts down academic freedom.

Political discrimination and dismissal campaigns are unjust and illiberal, but they also strike at the heart of the academic enterprise: the quest for truth. Difficult questions aren’t asked, orthodoxies remain unchallenged, and key social divides – such as those between Leavers and Remainers – cannot be discussed to reach a higher understanding and accommodation.

There is also a mistaken view that threats to freedom stem from the state, and that Government intervention always reduces freedom. This may be true in Erdogan’s Turkey or Xi’s China, but as John Stuart Mill remarked, peer pressure can result in an equally crushing “despotism of custom”.

In such cases, especially where a prevailing orthodoxy is weaponised by radical pressure groups exerting power over university policy, Government has an important role in stepping in to protect individuals’ freedom. We have seen this before with the Government-ordered de-segregation of Southern American universities in the early 1960s and interventions into British schools where religious fundamentalism has taken root.

Threats also come from the right, whether from organisations that would report and shame leftist academics or from those who seek to chill controversial left-wing perspectives on Middle East politics.

We recommend that the Government table an Academic Freedom Bill, creating the new position of Director of Academic Freedom on the Office for Students, to proactively ensure that universities are respecting existing law. This will ensure due process for the accused and a route to appeal for those who believe their academic freedom has been infringed.

We also call upon the Government to provide guidance on the precise threshold at which free speech and academic freedom may be superseded by harm claims. Finally, we recommend that university administrators should have a duty to remain politically-neutral in their official communications to staff.

This is not just a tempest in the academic teapot. Nearly all graduate-dominated professions and organisations lean left and Remain, and where people’s views are manifest in work and conversation, this may produce a much wider problem of political discrimination and self-censorship. The recent letter in Harper’s magazine signed by 150 leading writers, including figures such as JK Rowling and Noam Chomsky, shows that the problem is not confined to universities.

The report highlights problems, but also has some bright spots. Just 10-20 per cent of academics support campaigns to have controversial scholars fired. Using a concealed method, we found that two-thirds of academics, including six in 10 leftists, wouldn’t discriminate against a Leaver. There is a silent majority of decent academics who support academic freedom.

Even so, while few professors and lecturers wish to cancel dissenters, few would actively oppose such campaigns, permitting an illiberal minority to exercise influence far beyond their numbers. Government action helps to signal that this will not be tolerated, strengthening the hand of university administrators in resisting pressure from radical staff, students and outside activists.

The growing challenge from a “woke” ideology that values emotional safety over academic freedom is gaining institutional traction in academia and beyond. Thus far, resistance has largely taken place among liberals and conservatives in the media and online.

In order to turn the tide, however, Government, backed by the courts, needs to step in to ensure that universities and other institutions are upholding the law in their daily operations. As Cass Sunstein, a legal scholar, notes, Government action can change social norms by signalling what the democratic majority of citizens approve of.

Smoking bans and seatbelt restrictions started with law, but led to norm change. Likewise, putting an end to mob-driven dismissal and political discrimination can help establish new norms in institutions like universities which obviate the need for close enforcement.

Emma Revell: Young people socialising made Sturgeon “want to cry”. If only she got as upset over their debt burden.

4 Aug

Emma Revell is Head of Communications at the IEA

It’s not often some millennials gathering on a beach on a blazing hot weekend is enough to move someone to tears but that was the case for Nicola Sturgeon this week. The Scottish First Minister told a press conference that the crowds of young people gathered, apparently without physical distancing, made her “want to cry”.

I understand the frustration governments might be feeling at people pushing the boundaries of social distancing recommendations but to be driven to tears? Not at the untold damage being wrought on young people’s careers, not for the unfathomable debt they have been saddled with for the rest of their lives and probably those of their children, not for the unsuitable conditions many have been forced to work in for the last five months – those who were lucky enough to have jobs which can be done from home at least. But the simple act of meeting one’s friends outside is enough for a national leader to condemn a generation.

How can this be allowed to stand? The chance of dying from Coronavirus for 15-24 year olds is 0.5 for every 100,00 people. For 25-44 year olds it is 2.9 for every 100,000. So even accounting for a very generous definition of what Nicola Sturgeon meant by young – stretching it to the second category to include myself at a mere 28 years old – the chances of dying from Coronavirus, assuming you did contract the disease, are vanishingly small. The burden of the measures introduced to combat the disease however will fall squarely on the shoulders of the young.

The UK’s debt as a percentage of GDP exceeded 100 per cent for the first time since 1963 in June and that is only likely to increase with unemployment likely to reach record highs.

Whether or not you consider a pivot to homeworking a joy or a disaster is likely to depend on your age. While upper management in their 50s and beyond have enjoyed the chance to skip the commute and take a leisurely lunchtime walk as a break from their kitted-out home office, young people are much more likely to have struggled to share the kitchen table with multiple housemates in private rented accommodation without the luxury of a decade chair, never mind a home office.

New research from the LSE found that young Londoners living in shared accommodation throughout lockdown had just 9.3sqm of private personal space and that 37 per cent of those were sleeping and working in their bedrooms. Nearly half of those surveyed reporting having no suitable place to work at all.

That is those young people who can work from home in the first place. A total of 22 per cent of workers between 22 and 25 in their first full-time job were in low-paying occupations in the hardest hit sectors: retail and hospitality.

For those lucky enough to hang on to work, long-term home working will severely damage the chances of progression and team cohesion in sectors where so much relies on making connections with colleagues and getting to know the rest of the team.

A Zoom pub quiz on a Thursday night organised by a frazzled HR manager will only get you so far. Reduced job opportunities will limit the chances of progression into higher paid positions even further.

And it is not all about money. What about our social lives, or our love lives? If you are in your late 20s like I am, the tick tock of the biological clock begins to edge ever closer. Lockdown has damaged countless relationships, ending many either through enforced separation or proximity. How long are we expected to put our social lives on hold?

Where are our champions? During the EU referendum both sides of the campaign played up the benefits of their side’s victory for young people. Remainers argued that membership of the EU was essential for safeguarding the rights of young people to live and work across the continent, while Leavers wanted the next generation to grow up in full control of the laws of the land. Where are those campaigners now?

It is, of course, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions who are suffering the worst health outcomes from the pandemic. If rumours from Whitehall are to be believed, over 50s are at risk of losing essential liberties if a second wave of the virus hits Britain and of course maybe in middle age have been balancing the twin burdens of childcare and home-schooling with supporting older relatives who have been told to shield themselves.

No generation has escaped Coronavirus’ effect, but the young are uniquely positioned to bare almost no health risk yet will be living with the impact on careers, bank balances, romances, and mental health for the rest of their lives. It is time for politicians to remember that.

Ben Everitt: Our housing market is a weird spaghetti of disincentives. This must be fixed.

4 Aug

Ben Everitt is the MP for Milton Keynes North and the Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Housing Market & Housing Delivery

We’re bouncing back by doubling down on levelling up. There’s no lack of active verbs or direction in the vision set out by this Government. The sense of mission is real, too – shared not just by new and enthusiastic 2019ers like me, but by veteran backbenchers, ministers and ‘15/’17 survivors too.

But there is a huge, intransient, illiquid, blob-like barrier to progress, that no amount of energy, passion and enthusiasm can succeed against. The UK housing market is broken. If we fix it, we can turbo-charge investment in infrastructure and enterprise outside of London. We can release young people trapped in the rented sector who are finding it harder and harder to settle down and start a family. We can remove the geographical choice too many are forced to make between the job they want and a home they can afford.

It’s a hugely exciting time for Global Britain right now. Trade deals going on left right and centre, our researchers leading the world in finding a Covid-19 vaccine. We’re even consulting on how the UK would regulate passenger space travel. But as we carve out our new global role, our broken housing market is a self-inflicted economic anchor holding Global Britain back. HMS Levelling Up is sailing into headwinds.

The recent reforms to planning announced by Robert Jenrick are certainly welcome. Planning is definitely a part of the problem but by no means all of it. There are much more structural issues with the UK housing market that need to be addressed if we are to build the right houses in the right places – which will be what makes levelling up sustainable.

The “housing affordability crisis” that the UK has experienced since the late 1990s is actually a problem caused by the UK’s success. The UK has become a global brand and a place that hundreds of thousands of people want to make their home every year. Our NHS, our schools, our universities, our jobs market, our countryside, our way of life; these are aspects of British life revered all over the world. Immigration has helped make Britain great and because Britain is great people want to migrate here. It’s a winning formula – and our new skills-based system will give British employers access to the worldwide talent they need to grow and invest. This unprecedented population growth (226,000 net growth in 2019) is equivalent to a new city every year and is not evenly spread but concentrated in London and the South East.

Another fantastic British success that’s adding pressure is the fact that our older generation are living happier, healthier, wealthier, more independent lives. It’s the golden age of the sliver surfer, and the fittest-ever cohort of over-70s in human history are alive and living in houses that in days gone by would have been back in the system for growing families to trade up into.

Naturally this level of population growth – both from migration and from living longer – puts a strain on our infrastructure, which was designed for a much smaller population. But Britain can, and will, solve this conundrum. Upgrading our public infrastructure is central to the Government’s agenda, and housing can also respond to the challenge of growth.

Well-meaning but minor and disconnected reforms by successive governments over decades have left the housing sector burdened with regulations which slow decision-making and create a weird spaghetti of disincentives. Put bluntly – the more we tinker, the more we mess it up. Our planning system is almost uniquely adversarial and expensive to navigate. Planners are often hamstrung by policy directives or afraid to use the powers they have. The whole thing jams up, sometimes for years, and I sometimes wonder if the only folk that truly win are the developers with the deepest pockets and the longest time horizon. And the lawyers, obviously.

The UK has experienced several housing crises since 1914, crises caused by war damage, shortages of building materials, shortages of labour, and population growth, but each previous crisis has been resolved by solutions co-designed by industry and government. Britain has a long and proud history of innovation in housing provision including house design, construction methods, neighbourhood design and loan financing. Innovation in each of these areas has helped provide affordable and decent homes for every generation.

Substantial innovation has been applied to housing over the last century; from the “Homes for Heroes” Addison Act of 1919, the “Metroland” that transformed NW London in the 1920s, the slum clearances and bungalow revolution of the 1930s, Abercrombie’s Greater London Plan of 1944, the prefabricated housing of the 1940s and 1950s, the first residential tower block of 1951, the two million council homes built in the decade after 1946, the “system-building” of the 1960s, the sixteen new towns created in England and Wales by 1964, the enhanced standards for council housing following the 1961 Parker Morris report which closed the gap between private housing and council housing, the return of bungalows in the 1960s, and the discounted sale of council houses to their occupants which started in 1971, Britain has led the way in innovative housing solutions. We can do this.

Today’s answers will not look like those: 21st Century conditions require a bespoke 21st Century response. But how do we rediscover the boldness and imagination which produced previous solutions?

A few things are clear. First, the answer doesn’t lie in reducing construction standards. The British public wants decent homes at affordable prices; our housing must be built to last and should achieve the highest aesthetic standards.

Second, any solution will require close collaboration between the Government and those with on-the-ground expertise of navigating the planning system and getting things built. We cannot have ministers handing down diktats from on high and leaving local authorities and frustrated housebuilders to sort things out as best they can. Joined-up, evidence-led thinking is essential.

And third, no more tinkering. To sort this properly, we need to unpick the whole thing and put it back together again. The fact is that the complexity of the issues with the housing market means that it doesn’t really resemble a market at all. A small intervention at one end sets off a chain reaction of unintended consequences leading, invariably, to an unexpected issue somewhere else in the housing ecosystem. We need all the players at the table to buy in to this.

That’s why I am delighted to be chairing the new All-Party Parliamentary Group for Housing Market & Housing Delivery.

The aims of our group are simple: to bring together MPs and peers from all parties who recognise how vitally important it is that we get Britain building, as well as the experts and professionals from the sector who have experienced the business end of the current planning system.

Our programme of roundtable discussions, evidence gathering sessions, and public events will help to introduce MPs to the issues and foster stronger links between Parliament and the sector. With this deep pool of legislative and sector experience, we will put together a comprehensive research agenda to find the policy solutions needed to unlock the sector and unleash the housing boom we need.

With this evidence to hand, our members will feed it back into the policy process at every level, from responding to consultations to proposing amendments to legislation.

Our work begins now. Yesterday the APPG launched its first consultation. We are inviting responses to one or both of the following research questions:

“What are the challenges of delivering the required number and mix of housing units that the UK needs to meet current and future demand?”

“Exactly how broken is the housing market?”

Whether you wish to offer your personal expertise or make a submission on behalf of an organisation, if you think you have even part of the answer to solving the housing crisis than we want to hear from you. Please send between 1,000 and 3,000 words to secretariat@appghousing.org.uk by November 4th, 2020. Further guidelines for submissions are available on our website.

This will be just the first step on our journey, but I am increasingly confident that we will reach our destination. Across Parliament, there is a growing recognition that we need bold and decisive action to fix our housing sector.

Our APPG will serve as a bridge between the politicians who make the rules and the professionals who build the houses. Together, we will finally cut this Gordian Knot and deliver the British people the homes they want, in the places they’re needed, at a price they can afford.

James Frayne: Public support for the Government appears to have dropped – but not when it comes to individual policies

4 Aug

The conventional wisdom on the polling is the Government is fast losing public support on its handling of the Coronavirus crisis – and therefore that the Government is handling the crisis badly in reality.

While it’s true that the polls have moved against the Government from the early days of the crisis when approval ratings were sky high, the story isn’t as simple as the public turning against the Government.

Interestingly, on individual policy announcements, for example the Northern lockdown, public support remains high. The public back the Government on specifics, but not in the round. So what’s happening?

Let’s begin by looking at the polling on general Government popularity measures. The picture is clear: the public has become less sympathetic over time.

  • ConservativeHome’s newly released panel survey showed the PM’s popularity has slipped for the third month in a row.
  • YouGov’s tracker on perceptions of the Government’s handling of the crisis has shown a steady decline since the Spring.
  • Opinium’s tracker shows the same, with their most recent figures showing a net disapproval rating of -15. They also show a relatively narrow lead over Labour in the voting intention tracker.
  • A new study by Ipsos-Mori and KCL revealed an array of metrics showing public concern about the way the pandemic has been handled.

But now let’s look at the data on individual policies.

  • People appear to very strongly support the Government banning separate households meeting indoors in those parts of the country where the infection rate has risen.
  • People appear to strongly support the Government’s announcement that those with Coronavirus symptoms should now self-quarantine for 10 days rather than seven.
  • The majority of the public appears to be unsympathetic to those British people that went to Spain and got caught out by the demand to self-quarantine on their return – a decision for which the Government received enormous criticism.
  • People also appear to support restaurants having to show calorie counts on their menus – a suggestion the Government was said to be considering as part of No 10’s new focus on obesity. (I actually think this would drop like a stone when faced with a counter argument on burdensome regulations during a pandemic, but that’s another conversation).
  • The polls show the public support the requirement to wear masks in supermarkets and they want the supermarkets themselves to be tougher on compliance, presumably by refusing entry to those without masks or refusing service at the till.
  • The use of face masks has surged dramatically more generally.

What accounts for these stark differences, where the Government is losing support but where the public actually back its main policy announcements? There are a number of reasons why this might be the case.

First, it’s possible the public actually still favour extremely tough measures overall – much tougher than the Government is prepared to take. It’s possible they still favour what amounts to a near full-lockdown and, therefore, the support they give to specific policies is almost given in exasperation – as if to say: “of course they should do this, why haven’t they done so before?”

I think this is very likely the case among older and more affluent people, where the mix of fear and an ability to work from home and maintain their living standards means they take a very safety first approach. It might still be the case for many others.

As I’ve written before, the Government’s reputation has also ultimately been perversely damaged by the huge success of the furlough scheme. The fact that it worked smoothly and held up most people’s earnings meant it acted like morphine; it made people think the pandemic was almost exclusively a health crisis, not an economic one.

It made many think that the lockdown was a perfectly acceptable way to spend several weeks – not something that was crippling the economy. As such, many people believed, and still do, that the lockdown should keep going indefinitely. Were they exposed to job losses and higher taxes, they’d likely change their minds on this quickly.

In summary, it’s possible the Government is being punished for opening up the country too early.

Second, it’s possible that the little minorities of people who oppose Government action on, say, increasing the quarantine, actually all mount up to a majority overall, which brings down Government support.

So, a significant minority in the North of England might be angry about the new lockdown there, while a significant minority of holidaymakers might be angry about the new quarantine demands, and so on. In the end, the angry and annoyed on one issue accumulate to a large number. It’s as if everyone’s annoyed, but for different reasons. There’s also clearly just generally a virus fatigue: “when will it ever end?”

Third, we have to look at the role of Government communications. The Government has been accused of giving out mixed messages in recent weeks – most recently, encouraging people to go to restaurants while also telling people to stay apart and wear masks, or encouraging people to go to restaurants while telling them to eat healthily.

The Government’s view appears to be that they need a degree of ambiguity – yes, to encourage people to return to some form of normality, while always reminding them to take care because the virus hasn’t gone away. I have sympathy with this because the medium-term future is so uncertain and because the Government is balancing outrageously complex and high-stakes issues.

In truth, no one really knows what’s going to happen. However, the fact remains that their messages and stated priorities can look contradictory – and this in turn can make them look disorganised, which in turn can eat into their reputation for competence.

Fourth, it looks like party politics is returning to the public mind slowly. The gaps between Conservative and Labour voters on questions of competence and general handling reveal huge differences in opinion.

In short, Labour voters think the Government has done a bad job, even if they give support to specific policy ideas, while Conservative voters are cutting the Government slack. If Starmer starts drawing a greater contrast between Conservative and Labour policies – most obviously over economic recovery policies – we should expect these differences to become starker.

Where will the polls go? It’s hard to say. If there’s another serious spike in cases and another health emergency develops, it’s possible that people will again rally behind the Government for doing a difficult job in difficult circumstances.

But I suspect, in reality, now people have become accustomed to the habits and language of the pandemic, and now Labour has a basically competent leader, that the Government’s approval ratings will return to where you’d expect a Government that has been in power for a long time to be – with a divided country and a very large number of disgruntled voters.

Newslinks for Tuesday 4th August 2020

4 Aug

Johnson’s go-ahead for TikTok headquarters divides Tories

“Boris Johnson has given the go-ahead to allow TikTok, the Chinese video sharing app, to set up its international headquarters in London. In a move that has infuriated some Tory backbenchers, Downing Street said that it had no objection to TikTok setting up, despite concern over its close links to the Chinese government. It is understood that Bytedance, TikTok’s parent company, has made no final decision on the move as it negotiates the sale of its American arm to the US software giant Microsoft. One government source said that although the UK had no objection to the plan it was not a “done deal” as the company tries to restructure after a threat by President Trump to ban it in the United States. “Bytedance’s decision on the location of their global HQ is a commercial decision for the company,” Downing Street said.” – The Times


Russian hackers “got trade files from Liam Fox’s email account”

Russian hackers stole classified documents from the email account of Liam Fox, the former international trade secretary, it was reported last night. The hackers accessed a confidential dossier detailing trade negotiations with the United States which appeared to show that NHS drug procurement was on the table, the news agency Reuters said. Kremlin-backed cybercriminals allegedly accessed the account repeatedly over three months, including a two-week period while Dr Fox was still in office. Jeremy Corbyn, then Labour leader, held a printed version of the 451-page document aloft surrounded by NHS staff at a party press conference as part of his campaign before last December’s general election. There is no suggestion that Mr Corbyn acquired the document unlawfully.” – The Times

Rachel Sylvester: China is winning this war of the worlds

“The Three-Body Problem, by the Chinese science fiction writer Liu Cixin, is about as far out of my literary comfort zone as it’s possible to get. Alien invasions and virtual reality computer games underpinned by theoretical physics and quantum mechanics do not often feature in Jane Austen or Hilary Mantel. But when a friend gave me a copy of the book, I was gripped. It is a fantastical story that gives a fascinating insight into the clash of civilisations between China and the West. Liu’s novel — the first part of a trilogy — is based on an apocalyptic struggle for supremacy between two rival powers. Earth is under threat from Trisolaris, an unstable distant planet in a solar system that has three suns. The Trisolarans are much more scientifically advanced but the humans have greater ingenuity.” – The Times


UK warns drug firms to stockpile in case of Brexit disruption

“Pharmaceutical companies should stockpile six weeks’ worth of drugs to guard against disruption at the end of the Brexit transition period, the government has said. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has written to medicine suppliers advising them to make boosting their reserves a priority. The letter, published online on Monday, reiterates that ministers will not be asking for an extension to the transition period past 31 December, despite the coronavirus pandemic. There are concerns that the Covid-19 crisis has led to a dwindling of some medical stocks and that a disorderly exit without a trade deal could cause significant disruption.” – The Guardian

Coronavirus 1) No 10 ditches plan to shield over-50s after backlash from ministers

“Plans to extend shielding to some over-50s this winter have been abandoned after Cabinet ministers mounted a backlash against the proposal. Downing Street killed off the plan to tell over-50s to stay at home after ministers warned it was impractical, could damage the economy and sent out mixed messages on the day the Government wanted workers to get back to the office. Industry chiefs and prominent backbenchers including former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith also warned it was “economic madness” by depriving business of key managers and experience at a time when they were needed to help rescue industry in face of a recession.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Hancock calls over-50s report “speculation” – Daily Mail
  • “Segmented” lockdown could be the answer – The Times
  • Don’t give paracetamol to chronic pain patients, doctors told – The Times
  • Oxford Coronavirus vaccine may be financial shot in the arm for Huawei – The Times
  • Survivors of Covid-19 show an increased rate of psychiatric disorders, finds study – The Guardian

Coronavirus 2) Cities face blockades to contain a second wave of Coronavirus

“Ministers are prepared to quarantine towns and cities to prevent a second wave of coronavirus, Downing Street said yesterday. Under the plans, the government would impose travel restrictions in areas with severe Covid-19 outbreaks to stop residents leaving. Police would enforce the measures and could fine people who try to leave unless they fall under a list of exemptions. Boris Johnson and senior cabinet ministers have “war-gamed” the possibility of imposing movement restrictions on London around the M25 if a surge of cases occurs in the capital. Downing Street confirmed yesterday that local quarantines could be imposed across England. “There is the possibility of putting in place restrictions on travel if there is an area which is particularly badly affected,” a spokesman said.” – The Times

  • English pubs likely to be spared new Covid-19 restrictions, says No 10 – The Guardian
  • Testing every passenger arriving in Britain could cut quarantine time from 14 days to five, claims think tank – Daily Mail
  • UK advertisers pulled more than £1.1 billion spend during Covid lockdown – The Guardian

Coronavirus 3) Schools to get Coronavirus testing squads to help them open

“Testing squads will be sent to schools in areas of high infection to try to keep them open even during local lockdowns. Regular checks for pupils and teachers with no symptoms in hotspot areas are being considered as ministers hope to use on-the-spot testing machines to help douse local flare-ups. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said that technology that gave results in 90 minutes would allow much more widespread testing in schools to hunt down and control the virus. Scientists have warned that without a significant improvement in the test-and-trace system the reopening of schools in September risks restarting the pandemic. If Britain is going to prevent a second wave in the autumn and send children back to school, then a new study estimates that 75 per cent of symptomatic Covid-19 cases will need to be caught”. – The Times

  • Reopening schools without better test and trace “threatens second wave”, warns the Lancet – Daily Telegraph
  • Schools and councils will be given millions of pounds to put on extra bus services to get all kids back in the classroom – The Sun

Coronavirus 4) “Monday to Wednesday is the new weekend” as restaurants welcome Sunak’s discount scheme…

“Monday to Wednesday is the new weekend, restaurants said as they hailed the first day of the new discount scheme. Restaurants reported a surge in bookings as Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme, giving diners up to £10 off a meal and soft drinks, has helped feed demand. Social media users posted pictures of cut-price breakfasts on Monday morning, as major chains including Wetherspoon, Nando’s and Pizza Express have signed up to offer the discount. The majority of restaurants have embraced the scheme, UK Hospitality, the trade body, said, but some experts and owners raised concerns it could hurt weekend demand.” – Daily Telegraph

  • … but workers are too slow to return to offices as England relaxes rules – FT
  • “Just one in 20 civil servants have returned to their desks” – The Sun 
  • Places in Birmingham and Canary Wharf deserted – The Guardian
  • UK theatres job losses rise by 2,000 in a month, union figures show – The Guardian


Number of UK citizens emigrating to EU up by 30 per cent since Brexit vote

“The number of British nationals emigrating to other EU countries has risen by 30% since the Brexit referendum, with half making their decision to leave in the first three months after the vote, research has found. Analysis of data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Eurostat shows that migration from Britain to EU states averaged 56,832 people a year in 2008-15, growing to 73,642 a year in 2016-18. The study also shows a 500% increase in those who made the move and then took up citizenship in an EU state. Germany saw a 2,000% rise, with 31,600 Britons naturalising there since the referendum. “These increases in numbers are of a magnitude that you would expect when a country is hit by a major economic or political crisis,” said Daniel Auer, co-author of the study by Oxford University in Berlin and the Berlin Social Science Center.” – The Guardian

Grenfell Tower fire exposes culture of bad building

“On a balmy summer night three years ago one of the greatest tragedies in recent history unfolded as Grenfell Tower was consumed in flames. Over the past fortnight the principal building contractor responsible for the renovation of the 23-storey block, including the installation of flammable cladding, gave evidence to the inquiry into the fire in west London. The testimony of executives at Rydon offers an insight into how the building industry works and how its practices may have contributed to the disaster that night — and could lead to other tragedies in future. Rydon subcontracted large parts of the project to other firms but did not have the expertise to monitor what they were doing on site. It was said that key fire barriers on the outside of the building were wrongly fitted or not fitted at all and no one noticed.” – The Times

Sturgeon said she wanted to “cry” over pictures of pubgoers

“Nicola Sturgeon said she ‘wanted to cry’ over pictures of pubgoers gathering with no social distancing at the weekend as 27 cases of coronavirus are linked to one bar in Aberdeen. SNP MP Stephen Flynn today tweeted two photos he had spotted online of the city centre, where an outbreak took place in The Hawthorn Bar. The MP said he was ‘scunnered’ by the images, which showed dozens of people queuing to enter pubs in the city. It comes as NHS Grampian announce 27 cases of the virus have been linked to the bar, adding it is ‘aware’ of photos being shared online of ‘extremely busy bars’.” – Daily Mail

Migrants make dash for UK as smugglers warn door is closing

“Migrants are being told by people smugglers that it is “now or never” to cross the Channel because the border will close next year when the UK is finally out of the European Union, immigration officers say. Lucy Moreton, professional officer at the Immigration Services Union, said that the warning was helping to fuel a rise in desperate migrants willing to set sail from France in kayaks, pedalos and dinghies. She said that the success that migrants are having in crossing the Channel is encouraging even more people. “It is seen as a route that works,” she said. “What had been a niche market, a very expensive route, has now become cheaper and one that is seen as successful.”” – The Times 

News in brief

Lack of viewpoint diversity at universities threatens us all

4 Aug

Yesterday, research Policy Exchange confirmed what many people have worried about for years: a growing intolerance towards different political opinions at universities. Its report, titled Academic Freedom in the UK, showed the extent to which viewpoint diversity is under threat at these institutions.

Researchers examined one of the largest representative samples of UK-based academics in recent years and found that only 54 per cent of them would feel comfortable sitting next to a Leave supporter at lunch, with a third seeking to avoid hiring Leavers in the first place.

Researchers also estimated that between “a third and half of those reviewing a grant bid would mark it lower if it took a right-wing perspective”. In general, grants were found to attract the strongest levels of discrimination.

In summarising their report, the authors wrote that: “Hostile or just uncomfortable attitudes signal to those subject to such discrimination that they should conceal their views and narrow their research questions to conform to prevailing norms”.

In other words, academics are starting to self-censor in order to get by.

Much of this reinforces a recent article for ConservativeHome by Alexander Woolf, who wrote about the difficulties of trying to succeed in academia should one not subscribe to socialist politics. He regretted that people like him were “unwelcome in the vast majority of political science departments in this country.”

The research also reinforces my own feature for The Telegraph last year, in which I spoke to undergraduates about their experiences at universities. “I have lost a couple of really good friendships as soon as they found out I’m Tory”, one 19-year-old told me. Another Conservative said he was “abused and threatened” after protesting university strikes on campus.

The UK – and indeed the US – has reached a deeply troubling state of affairs in regards to ideological insularity on campus. And something has to change.

Fundamentally, it’s a contradiction of universities’ whole raison d’être for them to suppress and demonise diverse viewpoints. How is anyone meant to write or think anything interesting when only one worldview counts? The woke one, as it is called.

It’s not good commercially, either, given the British reliance on international students. Why would anyone want to study here when this problem exists?

The research will be particularly dispiriting to the general public as a measure of how much the culture wars have escalated – and how much worse it could get.

Some have always claimed that this battle is exaggerated, but the fact that an academic would shun a sarnie with another – simply because they want to leave an economic union – is a terrible indictment on society.

And it’s not only that: it’s campuses banning speakers, and even clapping (because it’s not “inclusive”) to replace it with jazz hands, and so forth.

Some of this is in part due to the growth of arts degrees and others which teach youngsters to see the world through the sociological lens – as a series of systems stacked against them, that they must then dismantle.

Yes, the Conservatives got a fantastic majority last year, and many took this as a pushback woke ideology, which was a dominant feature of Corbyn’s Labour (and Starmer’s hasn’t been particularly better, mind you).

But these victories can seem immaterial when its proponents have made great strides in our academic institutions – and elsewhere.

Over lockdown one of the most obvious ways in which woke ideology exerted itself was through the statue-toppling campaign. What began as just protests in response to the horrific murder of George Floyd descended into anarchy.

We’ve also seen JK Rowling shunned in celebrity circles for having conventional views on biological sex.

More and more people will be chastised, as she’s been, if universities continue teaching in the way they do, while shunning anyone who offers alternative perspectives.

Policy Exchange’s report makes some important suggestions. It wants higher education institutions and the Government to do much more to ensure that all lawful speech is protected.

Gavin Williamson, too, has taken some incredibly important steps towards moderating the issue. Knowing how much many of these institutions need a Government bailout thanks to Covid-19, he has told them they must first prove their commitment to free speech. It’s a great incentive.

The more the Government can set out policies to counter the issue, the better; universities are, after all, providing society with the next lawyers, journalists, doctors and generation of professionals. We simply cannot have them siding with one ideology; it’s not healthy for democracy, at the very least.

But combatting the groupthink will take more than legislation. It will also need the Government to be much bolder in putting forward its values.

Yesterday it was noticeable that Johnson’s ratings on the ConHome survey had gone down – which I hypothesised was due to his new-found interventionist tendencies on obesity, and face masks, and the rest.

But some of this may also reflect the silent majority’s wish for the Government to get a bit louder on the culture wars. Ministers should, at least, speak up while they can.

Rebecca Lowe: CNN’s “individuals with a cervix” Tweet, and why denying biological sex can harm those its meant to help

4 Aug

Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. She is co-founder of Radical.

I’m going to assume you saw three things on Twitter this weekend. But don’t worry, I’ll go through them briefly, now, and I’ll explain my annoying Twitter-centricity, below.

The first of these things was a tweet by CNN, saying: “Individuals with a cervix are now recommended to start cervical cancers screening at 25 and continue through age 65”. The second thing was a range of people replying to CNN’s tweet with variations on the theme of, “Cervix-havers?! You mean women!”. And the third thing was a less wide-ranging set of people responding to these “Women!” tweets, with claims that the people who wrote them were transphobic.

Now, to anyone who doesn’t follow this stuff, it must sound a bit “inside baseball”. And, yes, I know there’ll be comments below this column telling me: “The world is bigger than Twitter!”, and “Get a life!”. But the point is that this kind of exchange – “Women!”, followed by “Transphobe!” – is becoming common. And so is the thing that instigated it. Organisations like CNN know full well what they’re doing when they say things like “individuals with cervixes”.

Indeed, in our fortnightly Radical column, we’ve written many times about the powerful lobby pushing the agenda that leads to wording like CNN’s. As we’ve documented, this lobby has captured our institutions – local authorities, schools, medical providers, police forces, and so on. And commercial organisations have proven keen to extract financial gain from what’s become a raging culture war. (I don’t use terms like “culture war” lightly, but it’s hard not to see all this in that way.)

Now, one obvious response to this weekend’s problem – as various sensible-seeming people have pointed out – is that organisations like CNN could simply refer to “women and other cervix-havers”. Or, “women and transmen”. Because that’s where the crux of the matter lies. The main reason that accusations of “Transphobe!” are levelled at the people who shout “Women!”, is that the accusers believe – counter to scientific acceptance – that not all cervix-havers are women.*

This is not, generally, however, because those who shout “Transphobe!” believe that someone born a man can have a cervix. Rather, it’s because they believe that being a “man” or “woman” is not determined by biology, but rather by the way in which someone “identifies”.

So, they shout “Transphobe!” largely because there are some natal women who identify as men, but who haven’t had their reproductive systems removed to meet their desire to present themselves as men. And these transmen, the “Transphobe!” shouters believe, are not covered by the term “women”, because -regardless of their extant cervix, or any biological fact – they are now “men”.

Nonetheless, I imagine many of the people who shout “Transphobe!” wouldn’t like the solution on which CNN write “women and transmen”. And this is, surely, because such a phrase would work to emphasise an essential difference between people who are natal members of a sex set, and those who identify into it.

And what the “Transphobe!” people want is to elide these two things. In other words, if “transwomen are women”, and “transmen are men” -as their mantras go – then, the phrase “women and transmen” is problematic, because the “full” reduction of this would, of course, be “women and men”.

Now, the solution on which CNN write “women and transmen” would, also – I believe – not go down too well with many of the people who shout “Women!”. (I should confirm at this point that I am one of those people, albeit one who prefers calm, reasoned argument to shouting, wherever possible.)

And this is because the people who shout “Women!” see the CNN tweet as a particular kind of intentional political act – a sexist one. This kind of tweet, in other words, serves purposefully to help to write women out of the picture, in an insidious way.

So, we appear to have reached stalemate: people shouting across each other on the internet, with no hope for mid-ground pragmatic solutions. Or, do we?

Well, aside from my concerns about what all this means for women – and, particularly, girls, as I’ve set out here, before – I’m also worried by the lack of concern for transpeople that is shown by those who shout “Transphobe!”, whenever anyone refers to the realities of biological sex. I wonder whether, potentially, this worry could help us – or, at least, those of us entering these discussions from a shared position of good will – to find a point of agreement.

The point here, surely, is that shouting “Transphobe!” in response to “Women!” cannot really be in transpeople’s interests. This is not only because unfair accusations of prejudice help nobody: they dilute focus on real instances of prejudice, and also make people scared to enter into necessary discussion. But it is also because transpeople’s needs cannot be fully met if, as a society, we pretend there is no such thing as biological sex.

Rather, if we recognise, as we must, that transpeople have some particular needs that differ from the needs of the natal members of the biological sex with which those transpeople identify, then it cannot be that “transwomen are women” – if “women” is to mean what it needs to mean.

These needs include some transwomen’s need for testicular cancer treatment and some transmen’s need for cervical smears. On top of this, specific trans needs also include support against trans-specific prejudice, which differs from misogyny and misandry, from which many transpeople also suffer.

Now, meeting all of these particular needs requires widespread and formal awareness of the realities of biological sex – and that requires words, so we can discuss these things. Using the words “woman” and “man” for these purposes is simply reflective of the development of the English language.

Yes, we could begin to use other words for these purposes. Instead of “woman”, for instance, we could use “female-person”, or “womxn”, or “shwoman”, or “abc”. But we would come to the same place, and that is a place in which this particular word would refer to what it is to be a natal member of one particular biological sex.

Using “woman” to mean a natal member of one particular biological sex is, therefore, exclusionary. But it is not exclusionary for hateful reasons; it is not a value judgement. It is a functional term, and it is required for the meeting of sex-specific needs.

These needs go beyond healthcare. They also relate to sex-specific concerns around bodily privacy and security, as recognised in the Equality Act. They relate to matters of fairness, too. And if we have no relevant words, then – as with healthcare concerns – people will miss out on what they need.

In other words, if you deny the realities of biological sex, in order to be kind – and I am certain that the majority of the people who are committed to the mantra “transwomen are women” are committed to it because they think that it is kind, and good – then you will end up harming those people you seek to protect.


*Of course, to state that “all cervix-havers are women” is not the same as to state that “all women have cervixes” (women who’ve had total hysterectomies, for instance).

Sunder Katwala: Gandhi does not quite fit the bill of recognising ethnic minority Britons on our currency

4 Aug

Sunder Katwala is the Director of British Future.

There is a certain irony in Mahatma Gandhi being the dominant face of India’s currency. There was talk from the moment of independence of Gandhi replacing the image of the king on the money of the new Republic, though it took some decades for that plan to come to fruition.

A special commemorative 100 rupee note was produced as part of the centenary celebrations of Gandhi’s birth in 1969, but it was only during this era of India’s post-liberalisation boom after 1996 that the austere home-spun Mahatma became routinely the image and watermark of modern India’s new high-security banknotes. It is still only Gandhi who appears on Indian banknotes, reflecting both his role as the spiritual father of the nation, and the lack of consensus whenever additional figures have been proposed.

Now Gandhi may be set to achieve an unusual double, following reports that the Royal Mint proposes to feature him on British currency too. Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is supporting a call to recognise ethnic minority contributions in those celebrated on our currency.

Sunak wrote to the Royal Mint that “Black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities have made a profound contribution to the shared history of the United Kingdom. For generations, ethnic minority groups have fought and died for this country we have built together; taught our children, nursed the sick, cared for the elderly; and through their enterprising spirit have started some of our most exciting and dynamic businesses, creating jobs and driving growth”, in requesting that they bring forward proposals to reflect this on coinage.

The Chancellor’s intervention was a response to the “We Built Britain Too” campaign, coordinated by former Conservative candidate Zehra Zaidi and Windrush campaigner Patrick Vernon, of which I am a supporter. The campaign had hoped to persuade the Bank of England to feature the first ethnic minority Briton on a banknote.

Despite broad cross-partisan political support across right, left and centre, the Bank of England took a perfunctory and dismissive response to the campaign. The Bank’s remit includes “recognising the diversity of British society” in its choices, but it has considered this primarily through the lens of balancing artists and writers with engineers and scientists.

It seems entirely possible that we will have reached the post-cash society before Britain’s ethnic diversity enters onto the Bank of England’s radar. The support of the Chancellor and the Royal Mint will make a crucial difference to this happening on coins first.

It is not quite the case that no ethnic minority face has ever featured on British coinage. For example, the first black British army officer Walter Tull featured on a special £5 coin, part of a limited edition first world war centenary set in sterling silver and 22 carat gold, for the First World War Centenary.

But no ethnic minority Briton has featured on legal tender, or on the notes or coins that any of us might spend at the shops. The campaign is not proposing any specific individual – wanting to see a process of public engagement and debate – but suggestions including Noor Inayat Khan, Mary Seacole and black abolitionists such as Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho, the first black British voter in the 1774 general election, have been suggested.

Gandhi does not quite fit the bill for the campaign’s aim of recognising ethnic minority Britons. Though he did not live almost of his eight decades of life as among the king’s subjects, though the central mission of his life was that this should cease to be the case. He saw India become independent, and the trauma of Partition, but was assassinated by a fanatical Hindu supporter of the far right RSS within six months.

To the British public, Gandhi is a famous name, one of the great figures who shaped the 20th century and of very few names that would mean at least something to most people. Standing alongside Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher as British leaders are a handful of international figures: Hitler and Stalin as the villains of the last century, while Gandhi and Nelson Mandela are cast as its secular saints. No other figure from the end of Empire – including Nehru in India, or any other figure from Ireland, Asia or Africa – has any similar level of public recognition.

So Gandhi’s iconic image is claimed for many causes. An image of integrity, to contrast with the politicians of our time; an image of simplicity and sustainability, perhaps now to be seized by environmentalists; an image of activism, “to be the change you want to be in the world” used for myriad causes.

A simplistic deification of Gandhi risks losing the complexity of the man and his times. He was a pacifist, who helped Britain to recruit Indians in the First World War as a strategy to earn Dominion status, and whose philosophy could drive the British from India but lacked answers to address the menace of Hitler and the Holocaust in WWII.

His arguments with Nehru over India’s post-Independence path illustrates how part of Gandhi’s appeal as an icon in the West can reflect a problematic romanticisation of Indian poverty. Gandhi was a crusader against caste and for India’s untouchables, and developed his strategies in campaigning for Indian rights in South Africa, but held dismissive prejudices against the black Africans, as his leading biographer Ramachandra Guha has set out. “Gandhi’s blanking of Africans is the black hole at the heart of his saintly mythology”, as Patrick French wrote in his review of Guha’s Gandhi before India.

So Gandhi too has been challenged by anti-racist campaigners. We should recognise that there are no flawless heroes. The school curriculum should interrogate every controversy, so that we understand them, warts and all. Yet we can not set standards for the recognition of past achievements that not even Churchill or Gladstone, Gandhi or Mandela can attain, or we would surely have no statues at all.

That Gandhi’s statue now stands in Parliament Square – joining the statesmen of previous ages, along with the suffragette campaigner Millicent Fawcett – is modern Britain’s way of acknowledging the justice of Gandhi’s and India’s cause. It places his campaign against British rule as part of the story of British democracy, whose traditions and arguments were used by Indian Nationalists to tell the British that it was time to go.

The statue was welcomed across the British party spectrum, though it was David Cameron and Sajid Javid who unveiled it. The proposal to feature Gandhi on coinage may also be considered an important gesture of Global Britain’s commitments to the Commonwealth – and the warmth of its bilateral relationship with a rising India today – but this is a different, parallel proposition to the case to recognise British ethnic minority contributions.

This timely change would be one simple response to the growing appetite to deepen the public understanding of the history of race in Britain, and how that has shaped the country that we are today. Most people don’t want that to turn into a culture war over the history of our country. If the focus is almost entirely on who might be removed, we risk neglecting to ask contributions we want to recognise better.

This constructive campaign to reflect significant ethnic minority contributions to British history on national symbols, like coins, symbolises how our generation can contribute to broadening Britain’s national story in an inclusive way. Zaidi says her hope is that “it helps build cohesion, inspires young people and unites us as a nation that we all have an equal stake and contribution in society.

Having as open as possible a process of public debate about the potential candidates would maximise the educational value of this positive, symbolic change.

Judy Terry: Suffolk has shown has small chroties can make a big difference in helping the vulnerable

4 Aug

Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.

One of 46 across the UK, Suffolk Community Foundation recently celebrated its 14th year, reporting record levels of income, grantmaking and endowment fund growth.

665 grants, with a combined value of £2.76m were awarded during 2018/19, supporting essential services to help over 164,000 vulnerable and disadvantaged people across the county, including those suffering winter fuel poverty, with funds raised through its annual Surviving Winter Appeal campaign.

Retiring Chairman, James Buckle, a Trustee for nine years, explained:

“Unlike traditional grantmaking trusts and foundations, we develop lasting partnerships with individuals, families, businesses, public bodies and trusts. We worth together to ensure that areas of acute need are addressed compassionately, respectfully and sustainably. Our priority is to reach those in most need by combining robust evidence with local service delivery.

“Each year we have grown stronger, more effective and more ambitious to make Suffolk a better place to live for everyone, raising over £45 million since 2005.”

The website relaunched a year ago, now attracts 25,000 hits, “enabling people to learn more about Hidden Needs, apply for a grant or donate,” says Stephen Singleton, Chief Executive.

“Although Suffolk is a very generous county, it is our mission to raise greater awareness of how local charities and community groups meet need at grassroots level.

“Currently, almost 80 per cent of people’s donations go to the top three per cent of the largest national and international charities, instead of being focused locally. By working with our professional advisors, businesses, families and individuals wishing to contribute to, or establish, funds can tailor their generosity to specific projects with clear outcomes.”

With Social Care services under so much pressure, Stephen Singleton is especially proud of the innovative Sustainability & Transformation Partnership with North East Essex, bringing together both statutory and voluntary sectors to redesign and integrate primary, secondary physical and mental health as well as social care, with the creation of an Integrated Care System (ICS).

As an ICS Board member, the Foundation plays a leading role through its Realising Ambitions fund, with volunteer panels allocating and distributing £1.2m in the last year to address reducing loneliness and suicides, improve mental health and obesity, and reducing the impacts of poverty on health.

Other initiatives include the creation of Suffolk 100 members, and Community Champions, who directly support the Foundation and the Young Philanthropists, inspiring young people to raise money for their local communities, whilst developing key skills in research, negotiation, decision making and public speaking.”

“Building positive futures for our young people is a constant focus,” explains Stephen Singleton:

“The Youth Intervention Fund, for example, addresses issues as diverse as online safety, isolation and wellbeing, especially in rural locations, to ‘up the anti’ on resources to support young people whose lives and futures are in serious jeopardy.

“With knife crime just one of the serious issues increasingly hitting the headlines, we’ve commissioned workshops across 32 primaries, and funded research in close consultation with 75 young people to address their concerns.”

Coming together with The Diocese, University of Suffolk and the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, as well as the Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC), this programme has identified the need to include young people in decisions, improve accessibility to services, and provide safe social spaces in consultation with them.

When the PCC pledged an initial £50,000, a further £100,000 was quickly raised to deliver on expectations, and address challenges including antisocial behaviour and gang culture, drugs and alcohol addition, and County Lines.

Tim Passmore, the PCC says:

“During my term in office, I have seen at first hand some shocking and heart-wrenching situations involving our young people that are completely unbelievable in 21st century Suffolk. The research was vital to implementing solutions as a team, and I was delighted with the response to create the Youth Intervention Fund.”

In another success, 2018/19 saw nearly 500 people donating all or part of their Winter Fuel Payment to raise over £125,000 to heat over 800 households, as well as help with insulation improvements and energy tariffs. “We really broke new ground, and committed every penny to those vulnerable older people in genuine need,” adds Mr. Singleton.

The annual Suffolk Action week in early autumn showcases the role volunteers play in local wellbeing, reaching over 40,000 people, highlighting opportunities to volunteer at least once a month by joining one of the many organisations changing lives across the region.

One of the most popular annual events, deferred until next year, is Suffolk Dog Day, run entirely by volunteers, bringing together tens of thousands of dog lovers at the magnificent Helmingham Hall. Since 2008, it has raised over £500,000, benefiting over 100,000 vulnerable people through 250 grants. Importantly, it is a fun day out for people of all ages, enjoying each other’s company, entertainment and food, as well as delighting in dogs’ performance.

Recognising and rewarding all this effort is the aim of the annual High Sheriff’s Awards, inviting entries across seven categories.

“We are very fortunate in Suffolk, to have so many people willing to devote their time and energy to helping others. Cooking meals, driving people to the shops or doctors’ appointments, digging a garden, organising a book club or children’s sporting event; they are a lifeline for so many people, but do all these things out of love, without expecting anything in return, so these Awards are a wonderful opportunity to say a simple ‘thank you’,” explains Mr. Singleton.

The strength of the Foundation’s relationship with the High Sheriff is evident as it welcomes George Vestey, as its new Chairman. High Sheriff of Suffolk in 2018/19, he praised his predecessor for his “kindness, support and thoughtful leadership”. A significant act to follow, for which he is well qualified.

Matthew Hicks, Leader of Suffolk County Council (SCC), acknowledges the considerable benefits of joint working with the Foundation and its army of volunteers and fundraisers:

“Suffolk is a wonderful place to live, but, like so many rural counties, it has its fair share of challenges to overcome.

“These challenges include some people who may be living in rural isolation, facing loneliness and potential financial distress. Too often these issues are handled by the individual, on their own in silence, leading to incidents of poor mental health.

“When I became Leader of SCC in May 2018, I made clear my belief that no one individual organisation has all the answers to these challenges. I believe that we must work together with partners across the county to find solutions and mitigations that work. Through its sympathetic approach, the Foundation identifies a whole range of Hidden Needs across all age groups, which helps all of us to work in partnership to find the right solutions without invading anyone’s privacy. They are a pleasure to work with.”

Stephen Singleton and Matthew Hicks both agree that the current Covid-19 pandemic “is an exceptional event that will have an impact on local charities and community groups. We want to offer reassurance that we all stand together to address these challenges, focusing on the vital work of supporting the most vulnerable people across the county.”