A review of where we are with UK Covid restrictions. With apologies to Nandos.

It wasn’t meant to be like this. Remember the Alert Levels (the ‘Nandos chart’)? The whole idea of that was to set some sort of policy – a roadmap if you will – of how we get out of a national lockdown. Introducing… Covid Alert Levels. 12 May 2020.

Image

And remember this? The gentle ski slope of calm. ‘R less than 1 caseload decreasing’ Ah, simpler times.

Image

This was about the same time as the ‘science bit’.

We’ve also had the shiny new:
– Joint Biosecurity Centre
– National Institute for Health Protection
– The Contain framework
and lots of other things that seem to have been good ideas at the time.

That Contain framework was a good one. Basically if you get to 50 cases per 100,000 your local authority gets on to a watchlist and restrictions come in. Leicester took the brunt of this one.

Each week, a watchlist was created of the local authorities that were nearing the 50-or-so cases per 100,000 threshold, and they were placed on a list. New restrictions came into force. Trafford was Mentioned in Dispatches with only 32 cases per 100,000

Of course, experts have been banging on about the reckless way that restrictions were lifted – with no basis in science. 10pm closure times for pubs, that sort of thing. Of course, SAGE has experts coming out of its ears, who could have advised on this sort of thing

Of course, they *did* advise on this sort of thing. Here’s the warning to the Government from ‘The Science’ on 14 July (worth a read).

Despite warnings from the Deputy Chief Medical Officer that releasing restrictions too early will backfire spectacularly, the Government pressed on relasing things. We were happy, we ate out to help out. We spread the virus.

Turns out that focus groups and popular policies aren’t necessarily the best way of doing strategy. (I wrote about this in the Financial Times in March).

So, the Government came up with a new shiny Tier Level thing. A new Nandos chart, with extra mild and mild removed. Like the Nandos chart, we start with ‘medium’. Sounds lovely. That’s most of the country.

Image


Problem is that *every single local authority in the country’ has a higher than Trafford that managed to get itself on the Contain watchlist.

So, we now have High and Very High Tier levels. Problem is, of course, that all this procrastination means that the virus is still doubling. If the growth rate is 5%, that means doubling every two weeks.

Image
Image

So, we’re seeing
– patients admitted to hospital increasing 30% week on week
– deaths increasing 50% week on week

Image

And of course, Test and Trace has failed completely.

We’re now back to another mess of Very High Tier 3 restrictions, not uniform at all as per the plan, but different depending on where you are.

And… we’re back to where we started – uncontrolled virus spread with a mess of differing local restrictions. Maybe we could do some Powerpoints and Blue Sky Thinking and re-invent the Nandos scale and call it the Scoville scale. Because things are getting extra hot out there.

Image

Data Sources for COVID-19 in England – Letter from PHE to Local Authorities

I have received a copy of the following letter from Public Health England to Local Authorities setting out the data sources available to local authories and the public. The letter is dated 9 July 2020 and I have redacted certain information.

This should be useful for people wishing to understand what data is (and was) available on COVID-19 cases in England.

Letter-to-LAs-on-data-access_9-July-2020-REDACTED

What does the ℮ mark mean on packaging?

The ‘℮’ symbol, or the ‘e-mark’ is a symbol you will see on packaging such as tins or packets in Europe.  Millions of us will see this symbol every day, but what does it actually mean?

The raison d’etre for the e-mark comes from the problem of selling goods to the public.  We would all like to think that we are getting what we pay for, but does that mean we should always get what we pay for?

Well, if you use the ℮-mark, then no.  And yes if you don’t.  So you use the ℮-mark.  By doing so, some of us are short-changed, but, on average, we shouldn’t be.

The e-mark was introduced in 1976 by the legislation known by the snappy title of ‘Council Directive 76/211/EEC of 20 January 1976 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the making-up by weight or by volume of certain prepackaged products’.

This sets out a nominal value of a product.  This means that, on average, we should not receive less than the value stated before the e-mark.  But we would be really annoyed if we received, say, nothing, and someone else received twice the nominal amount.  So, the concept of tolerable negative error was introduced at the same time, to set out the minimum legal amount that each packet or tin or container should contain.  The idea is that only a few containers can weigh less than the declared value less the tolerable negative error (but none can be twice the tolerable negative error… that would be, well, intolerable).

In packets from 5 grams to 10 kilogrammes, the tolerable negative error varies from 9% (quite a lot) to 1.5% (not such a lot), the rationale being that it is easier to measure larger values with greater accuracy.

Excruciating detail can be found in The Weights and Measures (Packaged Goods) Regulations 2006.  It is interesting to note that the HTML version of the Regulations contain illegible formulae:

I leave it as an exercise for the lawyer to determine whether this would be a valid defence in criminal proceedings.

Parkrun Freedom of Information Act Release: Public Policy Gone Bad

Parkrun is an organization that coordinates a series of 5km runs for the public.  Crucially, there is no charge for participating in these runs, and this has contributed to over 1 million people registering themselves as runners.  It does good, doesn’t take a profit, and generally is regarded as a Good Thing.

Generally, the locations at which these runs take place are happy for the exposure, and local restaurants, coffee shops and pubs are also happy for the passing trade caused by the events.

However, this all changed earlier in the year when Stoke Gifford Parish Council decided to charge for the event.  Quite what the grounds were for the charge were unclear, but the Council have now disclosed to me the grounds for their action.  It is worth noting that the Council did not comply with section 10(1) of the Freedom of Information Act, nor to a first reminder issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The released documents are here.  I have redacted personal email addresses and phone numbers that were included in the documents.  Despite asking for all information, the Council stated: ‘Please note the majority of e-mail communication received was from Parkrun runners personal e-mail addresses, and will therefore not be published.’

The case boils down to a matter of national vs local public policy: the UK government want people to get moving, and the parish council don’t want to pay for it (or rather, want to be paid for it).

Parkrun set out (through their lawyers) the legal basis for their case.  Oddly, the Parish Council does not appear to have disclosed their reply (if any) to the lawyers.  It is good to see letters from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and from the local MP.

The Parish Council set out what at first glance appears to be a rather odd justification of charging under section 19 of the Local Government Act 1976 (which, incidentally, is an act of Parliament of Malaysia – presumably they (the Secretary of State and the Parish Council) mean the Local Government Act (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976): that as the runners run on a cycle track, and as such this gives them a right to charge for this (para 19b); or premises for the use of clubs or societies having athletic, social, or recreational objects (para 19d); or facilities in connection with any other recrational facilities (ps who writes this stuff?) (para 19f).

Pretty weak justifications in my view.  Particularly when HM Secretary of State gives you a pretty big hint that you are out of order.

Parkrun’s lawyers suggest that they may request a judicial review of the decision.  And maybe this would be a good time for Parkrun runners to fund such a review.  Not just for this case, but for the general principle of local authorities’ interests vs. the national interest.

 

Has Anyone Seen our Byelaws?

HomeOfficeDCLG

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, our Byelaws have been lost.  The Government can’t find them.  They are not even on display:

“But the plans were on display . . .”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a torch.”
“Ah, well the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur”, yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard.”

You see, byelaws are important.  Not as important, as, say, the Brexit referendum, but important nonetheless.  Recently, Alan Rusbridger, erstwhile editor of The Guardian and incumbent Principal of Lady Margaret Hall, assisted the Hampstead Heath Constabulary with their enquiries as to an alleged offence of using a camera tripod without a permit.  Byelaw broken.  £60 fine.  Banged to rights.  And of course, if you don’t pay up, you go to jail.

It is for this reason that Her Majesty’s Government doesn’t trust Town Halls to write their own laws.  Byelaws need to be rubber stamped by the Secretary of State to make sure that the i’s are crossed and the t’s are dotted.  In case, well, anyone goes to jail for a crime they didn’t commit, and the A-team have to get involved.

Of course, you could write to every local authority to ask for their byelaws, but I would imagine that they are protected by a leopard somewhere on the Civil Service pay scale.  Instead, I wrote to the Department of Communities and Local Government, who rather helpfully gave me a list of every byelaw that was graced by their rubber stamp.  That was nice of them.  But, amongst various caveats, was this:

” I should further explain that the list of byelaws covers only byelaws made by this Department, as this Department does not hold any records of byelaws confirmed by the Home Office. You may wish to consult the Home Office on any byelaws confirmed preceding this date.”

So, albeit a couple of years later, I wrote to the Home Office, who also helpfully replied:

“The Home Office does not hold the information which you have requested. The Bylaws unit moved from the Home Office to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) around 10 years ago.”

So, there we have it, the Government has lost the byelaws from before 2002.  Or maybe they are in fact in the display department after all.  Guarded by leopards.

Into the Depths of the Freedom of Information Act

FOIAThe Freedom of Information Act is a thing of beauty.  So much so that Tony Blair described the prime minister that introduced the Act as an ‘idiot, a ‘naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop’.

Government departments have now taken it upon themselves to publish a list of requests (although not necessarily refused requests – more of that later).

Take, for instance, the Department for Environment, Food, & Rural Affairs.  Somewhere in the bowels of [redacted], some poor civil servant has to, presumably with a straight face, reply to [redacted]’s request for – long breath – ‘REQUEST FOR INFORMATION: COMMUNICATIONS RECEIVED BY MINISTERS, OR THEIR OFFICES, RELATING TO TAKEAWAY COFFEE CUPS SINCE 11 MARCH AND INFORMATION RELATING TO RESPONDING TO MEDIA ENQUIRIES ON THIS TOPIC’.  I am not sure that the request was originally in capitals.  Although I expect it was.

And, lo and behold, we are treated to the delights of the requests made to Rory Stewart OBE MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State.  Discussions abound about Guinness (‘And a jolly good drink it is, too’), an 18-point manifesto for cup eradication, something about quality control and Pareto, an offer of free cups together with a very scary disclaimer, and finally a letter with far too many ‘inverted’ commas.

Do give them a read.  Although probably best if you don’t print them out.