Thursday, February 25, 2021

Quotes of the day 25th February 2021

"In the 80s Labour and the press moaned about the Tories shutting mines; now they are moaning about Tories opening them! Par for the course ....."

(Mark Adrian Solomon, response on Facebook to my Conservative Home article)


"It seems strange that now we have Conservatives wanting to open a coal mine and Labour opposing it."

(Thomas_Lokier· in the Conservative Home comments on the same article)


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Trade opportunities for British farmers

Yesterday the International Trade Secretary spoke at the NFU conference about the new doors opening for farmers through free and fair trade in the UK’s future outside of the EU.

  • For nearly fifty years British farmers were been held back by an anti-innovation approach, high tariff walls with the rest of the world, and sometimes unreasonable  bans on our farm products.
     
  • Britain now has the opportunity to set our own tariffs and deal with these issues. We are seizing on our freedom to deepen our trade worldwide and access new markets where the real opportunities lie for Britain and our farmers as we diversify to avoid dependence on one market.
     
  • British farmers and food producers are at the heart of our international trade agreements and together we can seize the golden opportunities that lay ahead for us outside of the EU.

Support for schools and children

Today the government has announced a £700 million recovery package for children and young people in England – helping them to catch up on learning lost due to the pandemic and access the opportunities they deserve to learn and fulfil their potential.

  • Everyone is grateful for the heroic efforts of teachers and parents who have been home schooling during coronavirus, but we all know that the classroom is the best place for our children to be. 
     
  • To further support the re-opening of schools on 8 March the government is are providing a £700 million programme of catch-up funding, including a Recovery Premium for the most disadvantaged students, funding the extension of the already successful National Tutoring Programme and delivering face-to-face summer schools. 
     
  • This extensive programme of catch-up funding will equip teachers with the tools and resources they need to support their pupils, and give children the opportunities they deserve to learn and fulfil their potential. 

Climate change and security

Yesterday the Prime Minister chaired a UN Security Council session on climate and security – the first time a British Prime Minister has chaired the Council in almost 30 years – in which he called for international action to reduce carbon emissions and help vulnerable nations to adapt to climate change, enhancing the prosperity and security of our planet for the future.

  • Climate change represents one of the gravest threats to global peace and security. Unless we join together and take bold action to tackle it, the world risks more conflict, displacement, and insecurity in the future.
     
  • That is why the Prime Minister used Britain' presidency of the UN Security Council to urge world leaders to follow the UK’s lead in committing to reach net zero emissions and push for more support to help fragile states adapt to climate change, helping avert future conflict, misery and famine.  
     
  • The UK has led the way on climate action and as we build towards COP26 we will continue to urge others to be equally bold, so that we can avert climate conflicts and protect our planet for future generations.

Quote of the day 24th February 2021

"Professor David Miller’s work has long been deeply offensive to me and to many Jews but that is not remotely a conclusive argument for his dismissal. However, I fear the same cannot be said for his recent response to controversies about his work.

Miller has chosen to attack the Bristol University Jewish Society — proper, actual students at his own university — as being part of a co-ordinated campaign of censorship directed by the state of Israel. He further told the Jewish Chronicle that: “There is a real question of abuse here — of Jewish students on British campuses being used as political pawns by a violent, racist foreign regime engaged in ethnic cleansing”.

Bristol University may regard Professor Miller’s amazing theories about power elites as part of the rich tapestry of political sociology and as merely a home for views on Israel I don’t happen to share.

It cannot, however, allow some 19- year-old student who comes up from Radlett to study, I don’t know, botany and joins the Jewish society to be characterised by one of its own professors as having signed up to a foreign-backed conspiracy to subvert the country’s politics.

If Bristol cannot tell the difference between such an assault and the normal cut and thrust of academic and political discourse then it doesn’t have any business even teaching political sociology."


(Danny Finkelstein, extract from an article in the Times on Professor David Miller. See previous post on this blog for my take on the same gentleman.) 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The University of Bristol, Free Speech and Professor David Miller.

I have been struggling for some time with the conflict between my strong personal conviction in favour of free speech, particularly in Universities, and my concern over the fact that one of the professors at my old University in Bristol, David Miller, has said and written some deeply problematic things.

That's "problematic" as in "resigned from the Labour party before Sir Keir Starmer could throw him out" while under investigation for alleged Anti-Semitism after Sir Keir started to make a serious attempt to do something about that problem.

I am very proud of the fact that I successfully persuaded Cumbria County Council to adopt the IHRA definition of Anti-Semitism in a non-partisan manner, bending over backwards to avoid using the motion to score party-political points and thereby ensuring that the motion was passed nem. con. While researching that speech I learned about the work of the Community Security Trust in protecting Jewish places of worship and Jewish people generally from Anti-Semitic hate incidents. 

CST actually exists to protect Jewish people against racist attacks, and is recognised by the UK government and the police as a model of good practice, so I was incandescent with fury when David Miller smeared CST as "an organisation that exists to run point for a hostile foreign government" (e.g. Israel) and part of a "witch hunt."

My first draft of this post on FB had a Freudian slip there, I wrote "a witch hunt against anti-semites" when he actually accused CST of being part of a witch-hunt, full stop.  And then of blurring the distinction between Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism. Actually I think it is the Anti-Semites who had already done that. Not all Anti-Zionists are racist or Anti-Semitic. But just about every modern Anti-Semite describes himself or herself as an Anti-Zionist.

I have up to now believed that Bristol University cannot and should not take action against David Miller for views he expresses as an individual at events organised by groups like "Labour against the Witch Hunt," no matter how disgraceful I may find his comments. About the only thing Noam Chomsky ever said that I agree with is that if we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all." 


I stand by all the comments I have made over forty years in favour of free speech at the University, both as a student and at University Court meetings, where I once proposed a free speech motion. Even for someone like David Miller, provided he stays within the law and lives up to his academic responsibilities.

The question is whether he did fail in his academic responsibilities when he publicly criticised two individual Jewish students at the University - the chairs respectively of Bristol J-Soc and UJS - describing them as formally part of the Zionist movement and of acting as pawns for “a violent, racist foreign regime engaged in ethnic cleansing”. As he has also said that Zionism is "the enemy" and "has no place in any society" accused people he identifies as Zionists as agents of a hostile foreign state and added that he wants "to end Zionism as a functioning ideology," being described as a Zionist in this way and by such a person is a pretty chilling insult.

I am coming to the conclusion that when a university professor makes a public attack like that on two students at the university where he teaches, one of whom is 19 years old and the other presumably a similar age, we are no longer just talking about a free speech issue. There is at least a case to answer that we are talking about a misconduct issue, not because of David Miller's opinions but because he has failed to act in accordance with a duty of care towards students at the institution where he teaches.

The last thing we need is for this to become a party political issue, which it is threatening to do. But there has to be a way for those of us who strongly believe in free speech to ensure that the fundamental right to express unpopular opinions does not mean the ability to intimidate or vilify your students.

Gus Kennedy RIP

I am sorry to learn from St Bees Parish Council that Gus Kennedy died in hospital in the early hours of this morning with his wife Lesley at his bedside, following a sudden deterioration in his health

He died peacefully.

Gus was an active and enthusiastic member of St Bees Parish council; his rejuvenation of the allotments being the first of many contributions. As recently as last week he was still actively engaged, when he volunteered to join the Beach Bowl group. This was stimulated by his love of theatre. 

He was chairman of the Village Hall committee, and in this role played an important part in the regeneration of the Village Hall. He was a keen amateur playwright, and I am told that many in the village will long remember his pantomimes and murder mysteries.

Thoughts and prayers are with Lesley and the rest of his family.

Rest in Peace



Vaccination update

OVER 17.9 MILLION people have now received at least one vaccination dose in the UK.

As the Prime Minister set out, our ambition is now to offer a coronavirus vaccine to every adult in the country by the end of July. Britain has administered over 18.3 million vaccines - averaging more than 2.5 million doses a week and have vaccinated 1 in 3 adults across the country.

 


A vaccination dose has now been offered to everyone in the top four priority groups and Britain has now vaccinated two thirds of people aged between 65 and 69, after invites went out last week, with people aged 64 set to be called forward this week.

 Only two countries, the United States and China, have vaccinated more people than the UK. We are also the third country in the world for vaccinations per capita behind only Israel and the UEA.

 Overall, we have secured early access to over 407 million total doses of vaccines for 2021 and 2022. This means we will have the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in Oxford, Staffordshire and Wrexham; the Novovax vaccine made in Teesside and the Valneva vaccine, subject to approval, produced in Livingston, Scotland – a great example of what we can achieve together as one United Kingdom.

Once the UK population has been vaccinated the vast majority of the surplus vaccination doses will be offered to less fortunate countries to help protect the world.

Study confirms protection provided by Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine after the first dose

Yesterday Public Health England published a landmark UK study showing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine provides effective protection against Covid-19 from the first dose, proving that the vaccine protects people and their loved ones around them.

  • As we continue to rollout lifesaving vaccines, it is important that we see as much evidence as possible on the impact they are having on protection and on transmission, and we will continue to publish evidence as we gather it.
     
  • This crucial report shows the vaccines are working and that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine offers both a high degree of protection to those that take it, reducing hospitalisation and death by 75 per cent after the first dose, and reduces transmission, helping to protect others too.
  • That isn't the only recent encouraging data. Apart from the continuing stats from Israel suggesting that the vaccination programme is helping, Public Health Scotland (PHS) has been working with Scientists from the Universities of Edinburgh, Strathclyde, Aberdeen, Glasgow and St Andrews who looked at data on people who had received either the Pfizer/BioNTech jab or the one developed by scientists at the University of Oxford with AstraZeneca.
  • They found that four weeks after receiving the initial dose, the Oxford jab appeared to reduce a person's risk of hospital admission by 94%.
  • Those who received the Pfizer jab had a reduction in risk of 85% between 28 and 34 days after the first dose.
  • Data for the two jabs combined showed that among people over the age of 80 - who are at high risk of severe disease - the reduction in risk of hospital admission was 81% four weeks after the first dose.
  • While this is fantastic news we are not out of the woods yet, and as we roll out the jab, it is vital people continue to play their role in protecting the NHS by sticking with the rules.
        All these studies were showing that the first jab provides protection four weeks after it had been taken. Studies from Israel suggested that there was an effect from two weeks after the jab. We should assume that it takes between two and four weeks for the protective effect to kick in:



        The Roadmap out of lockdown

        Yesterday the Prime Minister produced a roadmap to cautiously ease restrictions in England – setting out a one way road to freedom.

        • Because of the resolve and perseverance of the British people, and the extraordinary success of our NHS in vaccinating over 17.6 million people across the UK, the government has set out what we all hope will be a one way road to freedom. 
           
        • With more people being vaccinated every day, it is now possible to begin to gradually replace restrictions across England, working closely with the devolved nations, but this should be done cautiously so that this is the final lockdown and our progress is irreversible. 
           
        • The roadmap sets out four stages for easing restrictions, with at least five weeks between each phase to allow us to examine the latest data and subject it to four key tests: 

          • That the vaccine rollout continues successfully.
          • That the evidence shows vaccines are effective at preventing hospitalisation and death.
          • That infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations that would put the NHS under unsustainable pressure.
          • That our assessment is not fundamentally changed by new variants of Covid that cause concern 
             
        • With the four tests currently met, the first step will be getting all children back into schools from 8 March, supported by mass testing, and prioritising ways for people to safely reunite with their loved ones outdoors and in care homes with a named visitor.
           
        • There will also be further limited changes from 29 March, when schools go on Easter holidays. At that point, it will become possible to meet in limited numbers outdoors, where the risk is lower. So the Rule of Six will return outdoors, including in private gardens, and outdoor sports facilities will also reopen.
           
        • There will be further easing in step two, which will follow five weeks after step one, so no earlier than 12 April, with shops, hairdressers, gyms, holiday lets and others allowed to reopen, alongside pubs and restaurants that can serve outdoors. We will also publish the results of our review of international travel.
           
        • Steps three and four will follow at five week intervals after that, so long as the four tests continue to be met, and see the last remaining restrictions lifted, so no earlier than 17 May and 21 June, as we begin to return to life as normal.
           
        • The success of Britain's vaccination programme has dramatically changed our odds in defeating this disease. By proceeding cautiously through the four phases of our roadmap, we can restore people’s freedoms and usher in a Spring and Summer full of hope without undoing the sacrifices that have helped get us to this point.

        My Conservative Home piece on the mine

        I have written a piece on Conservative Home about the case for West Cumbria Mining's Woodhouse Colliery application, which you can read here.

        Tuesday music spot: Handel's The King Shall Rejoice

        Quote of the day 23rd February 2021

        "In an age of rage, we prefer to scald and hurt rather than understand and learn."

        "Much political discourse today is conducted in the feverish hives of social media. Extremes dominate, no quarter is given, and pre-worn prejudices are aggressively applied in all situations. On Covid, many have already donned the black cap and passed bilious sentence on our leaders long before any official, considered verdict can be rendered.

        By all means, investigate the errors (and the successes) of this destructive crisis with rigour. Dig out corruption and bad practice. Let’s learn from the what ifs. But our society is better served if we do so with empathy, some humility, and an understanding that human frailty lies at the heart of the governing process. Leave the hate and the abuse out of it. After all, what if it had been you?"


        (Chris Deerin, article in The Press and Journal which you can read in full here.)


        Monday, February 22, 2021

        Consultation starts on Unitary local government in Cumbria

        Long awaited consultation starts on Local Government reorganisation in Cumbria (and two other areas of the UK. 

        Views sought on all four options put forward by local councils.

        The government has announced today a consultation on the options for Local Government Reorganisation put forward by councils in Cumbria (and two other areas of England)

        All four options put forward for Cumbria by one or more of the seven principal councils in the county are included in the consultation, which is open until 11.45pm on 18th April.

        Local Government Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said:

        "I have always been clear that any restructuring of local government must be locally-led and will not involve top-down solutions from government.

        "Now that councils in Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Somerset have submitted their proposals, I am pleased residents, businesses and service providers will have the opportunity to have their say on what will work best for their area.

        "Where there is local support, changing the structure of local government can offer better value for money and improved services for residents.

        Residents, councils, Local Enterprise Partnerships, public service providers, businesses and voluntary organisations will now have the opportunity to have their say on which proposal, if any, they see as the best fit for their area."

        The four options put forward are as follows:

        Allerdale and Copeland councils – jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: 

        • West Cumbria comprising the area covered by Allerdale Borough, Carlisle City and Copeland Borough Councils  and 
        • East Cumbria comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough, Eden District and South Lakeland District Councils.

        (The above is the proposal which I will be strongly supporting)

        Barrow and South Lakeland councils - jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: 

        • 'The Bay' comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough, South Lakeland District and Lancaster City Councils and 
        • North Cumbria comprising the area covered by Allerdale Borough, Carlisle City, Copeland Borough and Eden District Councils.

        (The proposed "North Cumbria in this option is, of course, tantamount to recreating the historic county of Cumberland so I'm surprised they didn't call it that. That part of the option has quite a bit going for it, including alignment with local NHS stuctures which would make integrated Health and Social care policy much easier. 

        Unfortunately their "The Bay" proposal rips Lancashire's county town and its' hinterland out of that county with no apparent thought to what happens to the rest of Lancashire and I do not see how you can proceed with this proposal without a lot more work on the knock-on implications for Lancashire.)


        Carlisle and Eden  – jointly submitted a proposal for two unitary councils: 

        • North Cumbria comprising the area covered by Allerdale Borough,  Carlisle City and Eden District Councils and 
        • South Cumbria comprising the area covered by Barrow Borough, Copeland Borough and South Lakeland District Councils.

        (The fatal problem with this proposal is that it puts two areas with utterly incompatible cultures, aspirations  and attitudes - Copeland and South Lakeland - into the same unitary authority. There is already tension between these areas which don't really belong in the same county. Putting them in the same planning authority would be a recipe for all-out war unless the new council agreed to a massive degree of devolution to local areas and mechanisms to ensure local decisions are respected.)


        Cumbria County Council submitted a proposal for a single unitary council for the area of Cumbria County.

        (See my comments on the Carlisle and Eden proposal immediately above, And the current county of Cumbria is too geographically huge and disparate to be a good fit as a unitary authority. It could only work if you had a directly-elected Mayor and a huge degree of devolution to local committees.)

        Those are the proposals, and what I think: what do you think?

        You can express your views at: Cumbria Unitarisation - Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Citizen Space - Citizen Space

        Comeback of the month

        "I’m gonna poke the beast here. TV freelancers: would you turn down a job based on a company’s previous output / who the presenter was / what message the show sends? 

        (Full disclosure: I worked on P*ers M*rgan’s Life Stories as a researcher but now I’d very much say no)"

        Adeel Amini, on Twitter


        "Hi Adeel, you spent precisely two months working on Life Stories in 2010 & judging by your CV that was the pinnacle of your TV career. So you really don’t need to worry about getting any more job offers from me because I’d rather employ a lobotomised Aardvark."

        Piers Morgan, in reply, also on Twitter


        Game, set and match. Yes, Adeel did rather poke the beast, didn't he?


        Music to relax on a Monday evening: Handel "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba" from Solomon

        MHCLG to have dual HQ in Wolverhampton

        Over the weekend, the Communities Secretary confirmed that in a historic move, a Government department is for the first time opening a dual headquarters in Wolverhampton, which will move hundreds of jobs to the Midlands in a key milestone for the "levelling up" agenda.

        • As part of the government's continued mission to level up opportunity and prosperity across the regions, there need to be more local voices reflected in the creation of government policy. 
           
        • That is why a new Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government headquarters is being set up in Wolverhampton, with at least 800 roles set to be based in the West Midlands by 2030, including posts at the most senior level. With the regular presence of ministers, it will be a centre for policy development and decision making. 
           
        • By ending the Whitehall knows best approach, this historic move sends a clear signal of our commitment to support our communities more effectively and back our great smaller cities as we build back better from the pandemic.

        Roadmap to come out of lockdown

        Today the Prime Minister will set out our roadmap for a cautious easing of national restrictions, which will ensure we do not undo the incredible progress we have made so far.

        • In a statement to the House, the Prime Minister will introduce a plan for leaving lockdown that will balance social and economic impacts, while preserving the health and safety of our country. 
           
        • Our roadmap will set four stages for easing restrictions, and before we progress through each step of our plan, we will examine the latest data to ensure the following four key tests are met: 

          • The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully. 
             
          • Evidence which shows vaccines are effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths of those vaccinated. 
             
          • Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which could put unsustainable pressures on our NHS. 
             
          • Our assessment of the risks of easing restrictions are not fundamentally changed by new variants. 
             
        • With the four tests currently met, we will now proceed with the first step, getting all children back into schools from 8 March, as well as prioritising ways for people to safely reunite with their loved ones and the return of outdoor organised sports towards the end of next month. 
           
        • Together we will cautiously move out of lockdown, so we do not risk the sacrifices each and every one of us has made to keep each other safe as we slowly return to our normal way of life.

        Above this point the words in this post are a direct cut and paste of the official line. What follows from this sentence onwards is my own comment and only I am responsible for it.

        We need to come out of lockdown, but we need to do it in a way which balances the needs of the economy and everyone's desperate wish to have their lives back with the need to keep people safe.

        One of the worst things which could happen would be to unlock too quickly, have the virus take off again, and have to go into an unplanned fourth lockdown.

        The government is never going to please everyone. As one of my friends wrote a few months ago, whoever had been in power and whatever they had done, it would be seen as not restrictive enough by the relatives of some of those who died and too restrictive by some of those who lost their jobs or businesses. And how can you possibly blame either of those groups for feeling like that? 

        Let's see what Boris tells the House at 3.30 and the country in his 7pm broadcast. But I believe he is right to try to strike a balance.

        Cutting the costs of motor insurance

        The Transport Secretary has announced that British drivers are to be spared from an EU insurance hike, as Britain will be repealing an EU rule which would have forced up the cost of insurance by around £50 a year for the average motorist.

        • Following Britain's exit from the EU, we are now able to set our own rules and regulations and ensure that British people are not burdened by unnecessary laws. 
           
        • Plans are underway to do away with the EU’s ‘Vnuk’ law, which could have forced all motorists to cover the cost of insuring ‘vehicles’ like lawnmowers and golf buggies – even if they don’t use them. By scrapping the law, British drivers will avoid an estimated £50 a year increase in motor insurance costs and a total of almost £2 billion for the insurance industry as a whole. 
           
        • This move will help the pockets of British taxpayers and is another step forwards in our lives outside of the EU, as we prosper as a country that can set our own rules and regulations.

        Quote of the day 22nd February 2021

        "As George Orwell pointed out, the battle for free societies must be waged in each generation. Advocates of liberal democracy cannot offer ground-level truth. They cannot hope to match the fire and brimstone appeal of Limbaugh and his fellow pulpiteers. But they can at least offer the prospect of tolerance and peaceful co-existence.

        And perhaps, as the hard right storms the Capitol dressed in face paint and antlers and the left tears down statues and seeks to "dismantle capitalism" this isn't such an uninspiring vision after all."

        (Matthew Syed, from a Sunday Times article yesterday, "Zealots on the right and left are true heirs of religious fanatics")


        Sunday, February 21, 2021

        Vaccination Update

        OVER 17.2 MILLION PEOPLE

        in the UK have now received at least one dose of an approved vaccine.

        The Prime Minister today set out the ambition to offer a coronavirus vaccine to every adult in the country by the end of July, allowing us to cautiously return to normality.

        • Over 17.8 million vaccines have been administered across the UK, The next  target is to offer a vaccine to all priority cohorts 1 to 9 by April and all adults by the end of July. 
           
        • We are now averaging more than 2.5 million doses a week and we have vaccinated 1 in 3 adults in the UK. 
           
        • We have now offered a vaccine to everyone in the top four priority groups and we have now vaccinated two thirds of people aged between 65 and 69, after invites went out a week ago, with people aged 64 also set to be called forward this week.
           
        • Britain's vaccination programme has accelerated with nearly 1,000 vaccines being administered a minute at one point and a record 598,389 first doses delivered in one day on 31 January.
            
        • WThe government has launched a new social media campaign to allow people to show their support for the vaccine roll-out. People will now be able to display a range of images and GIFs on their social media showing ‘I’ve had my vaccine’ or ‘I’ll get my vaccine’.
           
        • As large numbers of people from at risk groups are vaccinated, we will be able to gather the evidence to prove the impact on infection rates, hospitalisation and reduced deaths. If successful, this should in time lead to a reassessment of current restrictions. Until then it is essential that everyone continues to stay at home, to protect the NHS and save lives.  

        Care Home visits

        This weekend it was announced that care home residents will be allowed one regular indoor visitor – reuniting loved ones in a step-by-step way towards the cautious easing of restrictions. 

        • The coronavirus pandemic has been an incredibly difficult and sad time for those living in care homes, unable to have visits from loved ones for many months.
           
        • From 8 March care home residents will be carefully and safely reunited with their loved ones – with them being allowed a single, named individual to regularly visit indoors, with tests required beforehand and PPE to be worn on site to keep residents, staff and visitors safe. 
           
        • Reuniting loved ones is an important step in Britain's path back to normality, but we must continue to make sure we take a cautious approach with the necessary measures in place to keep the infection rate down.

        All British adults to be offered vaccination against COVID-19 by the end of July

        Today, the Prime Minister has announced the ambition to offer a coronavirus vaccine to every adult in the country by the end of July – as Britain's vaccine rollout continues to save lives and allow us to cautiously move closer to returning to normality. 

        • With the UK vaccination programme already hitting significant milestones and beating initial targets – with a third of adults having received a vaccine – we all now want to see the roll-out go further and faster in the coming weeks.   
           
        • The Prime Minister has therefore announced plans to bring forward initial targets by aiming to offer a vaccine to every adult by the end of July, as well as vulnerable people in categories 1-9 and those over 50 by 15 April. 
           
        • These new ambitions will help protect the most vulnerable sooner and take us closer to easing restrictions – but we must remain vigilant, and tomorrow the Prime Minister will set out a cautious and phased approach to the easing of restrictions.

        Sunday music spot: Handel's "Zadok the Priest"

        The Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA)

        This week the Conservative government, as part of keeping a manifesto commitment to provide greater support to our scientific community, launched a new research agency – supporting high risk, high reward science and cementing the UK’s position as a global science superpower.

        • The UK has a long and proud history of innovation and invention and, as we look to the future, we need to support the next generation of scientific minds.
           
        • That is why the government has announced the launch of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA), a new independent research body to fund high-risk, high-reward scientific research, backed by £800 million that will focus on identifying and funding the most cutting-edge research and technology at speed.
           
        • By empowering and backing our most inspiring inventors with the freedom to drive forward the technologies of tomorrow, we can continue to tackle the challenges of the twenty-first century by building back better through innovation.

        Quote of the day 21st February 2021

        "Vaccination, not separation: do your job, first minister!"


        (Billboard campaign organised by "Scotland Matters," a non-party political campaign supporting Scotland as part of the UK) 

        Saturday, February 20, 2021

        Boris chairs G7

        Yesterday, the Prime Minister chaired the first G7 leaders’ meeting of the UK’s presidency – calling on world leaders to back efforts to speed up the development of new vaccines, treatments and tests to help protect the most vulnerable around the world and stop the spread of Covid-19.

        • Coronavirus is a global pandemic that requires a coordinated and collaborative approach from world leaders – ensuring that global vaccination coverage reaches poorer and less developed parts of the world.
           
        • That is why the Prime Minister used his first meeting as chair of the G7 to encourage the group to look beyond coronavirus to ensure a better response to future infectious diseases whilst also pledging to donate the majority of our surplus vaccines to poorer countries.
           
        • Britain will continue to use our current position on the world-stage to advocate for countries poorer than ourselves – ensuring that we play our part in the global fight against COVID-19 as we build back better together.  

        Vaccination update

        Over 17.8m vaccination doses have now been administered across the UK, to over 17.2m people. 




































        In total 17,247,442 people have now had one or both doses of an approved vaccine.

        Saturday music spot: Rejoice In The Lord Alway, by Henry Purcell

        Quote of the day 20th February 2021

        "We have been made aware that SLACC are stating that CCC has confirmed that we will not be considering the new evidence until June DC&R. 

        This is not true and we are attempting to make contact with SLACC to ask that this incorrect information is removed from their website and social media."

        Extract from an email to councillors yesterday from one of Cumbria County Council's executive directors.


        A good rule of thumb is never to rely on a single word you read from South Lakes Action on Climate Change.

        They made the false statement yesterday on their website that "The county council has announced that the Development Control and Regulation (DC&R) committee will not consider the new evidence on the 6th Carbon Budget until June."

        This is categorically untrue. Cumbria County Council has made no such announcement.


        Friday, February 19, 2021

        Music to start the weekend: Overture from Mozart's "Marriage Of Figaro"

        React-1 study shows infections falling

        New figures released yesterday, from the REACT-1 study into COVID-19 in England, show that infections have fallen significantly since the last report in January – proving that national restrictions are working in bringing infections down. 

        • These findings show encouraging signs infections are now heading in the right direction across the country, but we must not drop our guard. 
           
        • While cases and hospital admissions remain high it is vital we all remain vigilant and follow the rules as our historic vaccination rollout continues at pace. We do not yet know whether being vaccinated stops someone from passing the virus on to others so we must remain vigilant. 
           
        • We urge everyone to continue to stay at home - remember hands, face, space – and get your jab when you receive your invite.

        Quote of the day 19th February 2021

        I am fairly certain that Shakespeare did not intend this quote by "Dick the Butcher" at the start of Cade's rebellion in his play Henry VI Part 2 to be received  as a suggestion that killing all the lawyers would actually be a good idea, however popular it might be with some, Nor do I so proffer it. It is an indication of how those who want anarchy would start to obtain it.

        The presence of lawyers is necessary for a society governed by laws, not by men (or women). 

        There is no absolute guarantee that a society governed by laws will be free, fair, or safe.  But you can be certain that there have been few if any societies not governed by law that were any of those things.




        Thursday, February 18, 2021

        Long term impacts of COVID-19

        The government has today announced £18.5 million to help tackle the lasting effects of long COVID, in funding of new research to help better understand the causes, symptoms and treatment of the condition.

        • There can be lasting and debilitating effects of "long COVID" on people of all ages, irrespective of the extent of the initial symptoms – with 1 in 10 experiencing fatigue, headaches and breathlessness which can affect people for months after their infection.
           
        • This investment will fund ambitious and comprehensive research programmes across the UK to help understand and address the physical and mental health effects of COVID-19. Through this research, we will build on our knowledge and develop the best treatments to help people recover from COVID-19 in the long term.
           
        • The UK continues to be at the forefront of scientific research and innovation when it comes to the treatment of COVID-19 - and with this funding, we will better understand long COVID and how to help get its sufferers limit its effect on their daily life.

        More trainee nurses come forward

        A fantastic piece of news for our NHS: new figures released today show that applications to nursing courses in England have risen by a third – which will see more and more nurses joining our NHS – helping us provide better healthcare for everyone. 

        • At the General Election, the Conservatives promised to deliver a net increase of 50,000 in the number of nurses in the NHS – (32,000 from new recruitment, 18,000 for improved retention). These new application figures today are an important step towards delivering on that promise.
           
        • UCAS has almost 50,000 applications to nursing courses in England this year, a 34 per cent increase – with more 25 to 34 year olds, 35-and-overs and men applying than last year. These are the nurses of the future who will help the NHS and social care recover from this pandemic and continue to deliver world-class care to patients for years to come.
           
        • These figures are a testament to the work of Health Education England and UCAS in highlighting nursing as a rewarding and accessible career path and will help take us one another step closer to delivering 50,000 more nurses for our NHS and providing better healthcare for everyone.

        Vaccination update

        As of this evening over 16.4 MILLION people have received at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine so far across the United Kingdom.


        Vaccination has now been offered to everyone in the top four priority groups and we are moving  towards vaccinating the next two priority groups. In less than 10 weeks we have vaccinated 15 million people – that is one in every four adults.

        All care home residents and staff, health and social care workers, people aged 70 and over, and the clinically extremely vulnerable have now been offered a vaccine. These groups account for 88 per cent of deaths from coronavirus, meaning potentially tens of thousands of lives will be saved. 

        Britain's vaccination programme has accelerated with nearly 1,000 vaccines being administered a minute at one point and a record 598,389 first doses delivered in one day on 31 January. 

        The next million letters landing on people’s mats this morning now as we move towards offering vaccines to the next two priority groups – the over-65s and all those with underlying health conditions who are clinically extremely vulnerable. 

        The aim is to offer a vaccine to all priority cohorts 1 to 9 by May and all adults by September. 

         As large numbers of people from at risk groups are vaccinated, we will be able to gather the evidence to prove the impact on infection rates, hospitalisation and reduced deaths. If successful, this should in time lead to a reassessment of current restrictions. 

        Until then it is essential that everyone continues to stay at home, to protect the NHS and save lives. 

        Remember:



        High points and low points of the budget meeting of Cumbria County Council

        Today's budget meeting of the county council began at 10am and finished at about a minute to 6pm but most councillors would have been in group meetings from 9am.

        Among the highs and lows


        West Cumbria Mining

        At the start of the meeting there was a brief statement from the Environment Portfolio holder, Councillor Celia Tibble, about the fact that the West Cumbria Mining planning application is being taken back to committee for the fourth time.

        I was not expecting a statement on this at all. Discussion about the merits of a planning application which either has not been determined or, as in this case, is coming back to committee for reconsideration is fraught with difficulty - planning committee members in particular have to be very careful not to say anything which might give the impression that they have already made up their minds about the application in advance.

        However, if it was OK to make a statement about the process of bringing it back to committee, then it must be OK to ask about that process, so I asked specifically about the statement which had been made. In particular, I asked for confirmation of what role, if any, councillors had in that reference back process, and whether there was any reason for the reference back other than the objections made by law firm Richard Buxton on behalf of South Lakes Action on Climate Change.

        The reply was that I would be sent a written response because the mine is too sensitive to discuss in public.

        Excuse me? It's OK to make a public statement but the issue is too sensitive to allow public answers to any questions about that statement? 


        Funding Cumbria Police

        The government has given Cumbria County council £3.7 million to spend ourselves or passport to other public bodies through the "Contain Outbreak Fund" which is ring fenced specifically to deal with certain COVID-19 protection purposes such as information and enforcement.

        That, by the way, is only a small fraction of the much larger total amount the government has given the council to support us through the pandemic, but I had a specific question on this one too.

        So far the county council has allocated to other bodies or spent itself two tranches of this money worth more than £2.5 million - all to things which had all party support, which is why the Conservative group didn't "call in" or challenge the decisions to award either of those tranches. But £1,132 million has not been spent or allocated.

        In their discussion with other bodies in Cumbria about how best to spend this money, council officers had discussed the matter with the police, who have indeed had extra enforcement costs and suggested that some of this money should go towards them.

        The Labour leader of the council didn't dispute any of this, but refused to consider the possibility of allocating any of the unspent money towards the police - he said there were "better uses" but gave no clear indication of what he was proposing to spend instead which would use the whole of the remaining sum and make it impossible to meet the relatively modest request from Cumbria Constabulary.

        No support for Cumbria Police from Cumbria's Labour leader


        An inflation-busting 4% rise in council tax to put the money in the bank

        In November, when the government had not decided whether councils would be allowed continue putting an extra couple of percent on the council tax increase to fund Adult Social Care, the county council cabinet passed a budget, signed off by the council officers as balanced and legal, which included a rise of just under 2%.

        No councillor or officer has uttered a convincing explanation of any change between November and today which would be a good reason why that  budget, with a 2% council tax rise, would not be balanced and legal today. The only difference is that since then the government has now decided that a rule allowing a slightly higher increase in council tax for councils with adult social care costs at the council's discretion. So Cumbria County council can put up taxes by a bit more than we thought would be possible in November  if we want to of think we need to.

        This is not compulsory. But you try telling a Labour or Lib/Dem councillor that they should ever put taxes up by less than the maximum amount allowed.

        So the Lib/dem and Labour councillors decided to put up the county element of the council tax by just under 4% (to be precise, 3.99%) and put the money in the bank.

        The council tax increase will raise £9.559 million. They are adding £10 million to the general reserve.

        At the height of  a pandemic and the worst recession of 300 years, when even Sir Keir Starmer called the idea of such a council tax rise "absurd," Labour and Lib/Dem councillors put the council tax up by four times the rate of inflation in order to put the money in the bank!

        Every Conservative county councillor voted against this. 


        The good news - council votes to be represented on the GDF review

        Eight years ago Cumbria County Council killed a process called "Managing Radioactive Waste Safely" by pulling out of it.

        There were arguments for or against that decision. Personally I thought and still do think that as there are literally thousands of tons of nuclear material in Cumbria, including over a hundred tons of Plutonium Oxide, in total about 2,000 cubic metres of high level waste and 76,000 cubic metres of intermediate level waste, it made sense to look for the best long-term strategy to deal with it.

        There is now another review of what to do about Britain's nuclear waste in progress but there is an important difference: this review will go ahead whether the county council takes part in the discussions or not. 

        So the vote we held today was not a vote about whether there will be a review. It was a vote about whether the review will go ahead with Cumbria county council represented and putting forward our concerns and issues, or whether the view should go ahead with the council represented by an empty chair.

        The issue of nuclear waste is of enormous importance to West Cumbria and I thought it was a total abdication of responsibility when the Labour leader of the county council, without even consulting his own cabinet never mind the rest of the council, refused to take up an offer for the council to be represented on that review.

        It should have elected councillors taking part in the review from each level of government, taking part and reporting back in an open and transparent way so that local people can hear from their representatives what is going on and hold those representatives to account.

        Turns out the majority of the council thinks so too.

        A motion to take up representation on the review working groups, proposed by my Conservative colleague Arthur Lamb and seconded by myself, was passed today by 40 votes to 18 with all party support. All the Conservative councillors present, all the Labour councillors from Copeland, and a significant number of other Labour, Lib/Dem and Independent councillors voted in favour.

        I would like to thank colleagues of all parties who voted for the motion for their support.

        Music to relax after a long council meeting: Beethoven's 6th Symphony (Pastoral)

        Protecting the education of disadvantaged children

        This week it was announced that more than one million laptops and tablets have been delivered to disadvantaged children across England, ensuring they can continue to access a high-quality remote education while schools remain closed. 

        • Since the start of the pandemic, the government has made it a priority to ensure that every child has access to the world-class education that they deserve – no matter what their background or upbringing.
           
        • That is why, as part of the extensive package of support put in place for the most disadvantaged children, over one million laptops and tablets have been supplied for the education of those children – as part of the 1.3 million items of IT kit which will be delivered in total – and this will be alongside a further £300 million invested in tutoring programmes, building on the existing £1 billion Covid Catch Up Fund.
           
        • The government will continue to work to protect our children’s education throughout these unprecedented times, ensuring they have all the tools and resources they need to get on with and make the most of their lives.

        Quote of the day 18th February 2021


         

        Wednesday, February 17, 2021

        Keeping the Criminal justice system working through the pandemic

        The government has announced a £113 million funding boost for our justice system, helping to reduce delays and ensuring speedier justice for victims, defendants and the public. 

        • This pandemic has put unprecedented pressures on the UK justice system – but the government is determined to minimise delays and ensure justice can be served for everyone.
           
        • That is why a £113 million funding package is being implemented for our legal system, which includes building 14 new ‘Nightingale Courts’ – bringing the total number up to 60 – as well as recruiting additional staff, and putting in place new technology and safety measures to ensure these new courtrooms can run effectively.
           
        • This investment will help to further drive our recovery from the pandemic, delivering swifter justice and better support for victims and we build back better and safer.

        Put fighting COVID before fighting humans

        Today Dominic Raab, the UK's Foreign Secretary has called for ceasefires around the world, so that vulnerable people living in conflict zones can be vaccinated and protected against Covid-19.

        • Global vaccination coverage is essential to beating coronavirus. Allowing the virus to spread in areas without vaccination campaigns means a greater risk of new variants taking hold – risking further waves.
           
        • That is why Britain is calling for a vaccination ceasefire to allow Covid-19 vaccines to reach people living in conflict zones, and for a greater global effort to support equal access to vaccines so that the most vulnerable people can be protected from the virus.
           
        • The only way to be protected from Covid-19 is by making vaccinations available to everyone – and Britain will use our presidency of the UN Security Council this month to lead the international effort to eliminate the threat of the virus both domestically and overseas.

        Midweek music spot: Battishill’s “O Lord look down from heaven”

        Quote of the day 17th February 2021


         

        Tuesday, February 16, 2021

        Tuesday music spot: Telemann's Concerto in D major for Violin, Cello, Trumpet and Strings

        Free Speech in Universities

        Today the government announced landmark reforms to strengthen free speech and academic freedom at universities – delivering on a manifesto commitment – so that students and academics can express themselves freely, challenge views and cultivate an open mind.

        • Following an increasing number of cases of individuals being silenced, many people - and I am one of them - are deeply concerned about the chilling effect on campuses where students and staff feel they cannot express themselves freely.
           
        • The government shares that concern and is therefore delivering on a manifesto commitment, introducing tougher legal measures to strengthen free speech and academic freedom. Measures include a new free speech condition placed on higher education providers in order to be registered in England and access public funding; extending legal duties to student unions; and a new Free Speech and Academic Freedom Champion to investigate breaches of free speech and impose fines where appropriate.
           
        • Free speech underpins our democratic society and our universities have a long and proud history of being places where students and academics can express themselves freely, challenge views and cultivate an open mind.