Category Archives: featured
In 2022 we will be launching a new online news service.
Whilst we remain committed to hard copy newspapers in a monthly format, we are going to start offering an alternative. The new service is for those who would rather receive their news on a more regular basis and via email.
Leveller® Confidential will eventually be a paid for service with a monthly subscription.
However we will be running a free version too. So sign up now and take a look.
We will publish articles at least fortnightly and eventually weekly and send an electronic copy to you. The articles will cover the same sort of material as the hard copy Leveller® but in more depth. You’ll also get our material ahead of the monthly paper as we’ll be publishing at least weekly.
If you are interested in getting more information on the Leveller® Confidential service, please send your email contact details to firstname.lastname@example.org
We will only keep your email details for the purposes of contacting you in connection with Leveller ® Confidential.
Council meeting dilemma
Across Somerset, along with many other parts of the country, council meetings have been on Zoom for a year. Or some such similar system. However the legislation that allowed meetings to take place online rather than in person only ran for a year. In fact it expires on 7 May.
This would mean all meetings after that date must be “in person” meetings.
As the COVID crisis has not yet gone away this is a problem. Indeed it is a problem under the Government’s own rules which do not relax until 17 May. The real problem is the government “forgot” and did not put legislation in place to extend the rules. And now there is no room in the legislative pipeline to do it.
So to avoid having to hold meetings face to face ADSO (Association of Democratic Services Officers) went to court. They asked judges to declare what a meeting is. This is not (believe it or not) actually defined in the Local Government Act. All that was needed, was for the judges to define a meeting as online as well as in person.
And we have been waiting for that verdict from the courts. And this evening it came. It was not what councils were hoping for. The judges have come out and said that meetings can only be held online if legislation permits. And that means the government will need primary legislation put through Parliament.
So from 7 May councils have a difficult, almost impossible decision to make. Either they hold the meetings they are obliged to hold and risk COVID infections. Or they can refuse to hold meetings at all, or hold illegal online ones. It is not an enviable choice.
And if they stop holding meetings, the usual business of councils will grind to a halt. That means dealing with planning applications, decisions on education, adult social care, waste disposal and the like.
Get Your June Leveller® Here
Once again this month we are breaking with tradition and publishing the June edition online. If you cannot get out and pick up a hard copy of our paper, this month you can download a copy.
You can download the Leveller® as a pdf. If you’d like to do that, then you can do so here:
We hope you enjoy the online edition if you cannot get out to find a copy. or especially if the usual place you pick it up from is closed. We promise to be back to normal as soon as the current situation allows.
Bank loans? Let’s to the maths
There are horror stories about banks taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to make money for themselves. Whilst some of these stories are hard to validate, what we can do is some simple maths.
With the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme we would suggest that no bank can justify charging term loan rates in excess of 10%.
And here in a nutshell is why:
- Interest rates are traditionally set relative to the Bank of England base rate. This currently stands at an historic low of one tenth of one percent.
- Government has said it will pay the interest on the loan for the first year, pay bank loan arrangement charges and guarantee 80% of the loan.
So if a business were to take out a loan of £10,000 over three years (loans under the current scheme can run for up to 6 years), what is the exposure of the bank?
We can argue about charges, but let us say the bank would charge a £200 arrangement fee. That is paid for by the government.
- After month 1 the customer will repay £277. The government will pay one months interest of £83. The banks has now received £560 (including the up front charges)
- After month 2 the customer will repay a further £277. The government pays interest of £81. The banks has now received a total of £918 (200+ 277+83+277+81).
- After month 3 the customer will repay £277. The government pays interest of £79. The banks has now received £1274.
- After month 4 the customer once again pays £277 and the government interest of £76. The banks has received £1,627
- After month 5 the bank receives £277 in loan repayment and £74 in interest. The bank to date has received £1,978
Remember the bank has got a government guarantee of 80% of the loan of £10,000. Which means government will pay up to £,8000 leaving the bank exposed to £2,000.
So what you can see from the worked example (apologies the numbers are crude approximations) is that after just 6 months, charging 10% interest, the bank will make a profit even if the customer defaults.
If a bank does not have the tools to hand to determine that a customer can last 6 months ahead, would it not be better for the government to set up a nationalised bank. If for nothing else to ensure that money that is distributed is distributed fairly and at a fair price.
And if banks cannot see that, we have to question the future for a private banking system.
COVID-19 Bank Loans
Last week, out of journalistic curiosity, we attempted to apply for a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme bank loan. We were turned down.
I’d like to say it was clear from the online application form that w ecould instead apply for a normal commercial loan. But it wasn’t. We were offered the chance to phone a permanently engaged phone number instead.
Since then the chancellor has tightened up the criteria for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.
Banks are now to lend to small businesses with turnover below £45m. You can apply for a loan of up to £250,000 as long as you can show you can afford the repayments. You will of course need a cashflow and accounts and all the usual things you would expect to provide. The bank is not allowed to ask for a personal guarantee against the loan.
The government will guarantee 80% of the loan.
The government will pay arrangement charges for the loan
The government will pay the first year of interest on the loan.
There are now 40 accredited banks and financial institutions that can provide these loans. You can find a full list of them here
Government legislates for councils
Councils in Somerset faced with the COVID-19 crisis have been looking for new ways to hold meetings. Or at least holding them virtually. Today a new piece of legislation puts their position on a more sure legal footing.
New legislation will remove the legal requirement for local authorities to hold public meetings in person during the pandemic. This will enable councils to make effective and transparent decisions on the delivery of services for residents and ensure that local democracy continues to thrive.
Meetings must remain accessible whilst ensuring that councillors, staff and the wider public are able to follow government advice by staying at home to stop the spread of COVID-19 to protect the NHS and save lives.
However this does not allow councils to hold meetings away from public scrutiny.
The requirement for public meetings to be made accessible to the public remains, but it will be up to each local authority to decide how they conduct meetings, how voting procedures work and how to ensure that the public has access.
The point has been made forcefully by Local Government Association Chairman Cllr James Jamieson “Giving councils powers to hold meetings remotely is important to maintaining local democracy and allowing critical decisions to be made during this public health crisis. Councils need to respond quickly and make very many key decisions. They can now do so while remaining open, transparent and accessible to the public.“
Whilst many of our councils have put in place emergency powers to allow them to continue to function, which is important, the ability of the public to scrutinise them must also be part of the process and that may yet need more thought….
It seems especially sick when the country is trying to pull together, but there are still people happy to take advantage.
Avon & Somerset Police are asking for help with a robbery in Taunton that took place on Sunday (29th March). The victim, a man in his 50s, was walking along Railway Street with his wife at about 3.30pm after carrying out some essential shopping.
He was then struck from behind and knocked over by an unknown male. The assailant was seen running along the road before turning right into Thomas Street and off out of sight.
The assault in itself was an unpleasant incident. However the victim later realised his Samsung Galaxy A70 mobile phone had been taken from his jacket and believes it was stolen during the incident.
Police describe the perpetrator as being approximately 18-20 years old, slim and about 5ft 9ins tall. He was said to be wearing a grey hooded top – and the hood was raised – as well as blue jeans.
They are now appealing for witnesses to the incident. PC Stewart Cuthbert explains “The incident though has caused a huge amount of upset as the phone contained a lot of sentimental family photographs. “We would urge anyone who saw what happened – or saw a male running away from the scene on Sunday – to come forward.”
Anybody with information can report it by phoning 101 or via the police website and quote reference 5220073050.
South Somerset business support
As you may know by now, Government is providing grants of £10,000 for businesses that qualify for small business rate relief. This is money that will be paid over by government to your District Council (if you live in Somerset). They will then distribute it to anyone who qualifies.
To qualify you have to work from business premises on which you would pay rates, but you also get 100% rates relief.
Yesterday South Somerset opened their registrations for the grant.
The forms are relatively straightforward. Follow this link Covid 19 business support
Then click on Government Grant Funding Schemes then at the bottom of the tab, click on the link to “Apply for the Business Support Grant”
Please be aware the first question is a little ambiguous! SSDC are changing it an dit should be fixed later today. The question is about state aid and reads
“I confirm the organisation has not received De Minimis aid in the last 3 financial years (this being the current financial year and the last two financial years) ”
Covid-19 will not kill more people
One interesting aspect of the Covid-19 crisis was about the “the science”. We have policy that is apparently being driven by “the science” so we were curious to know more about it. On 21st March we asked a relatively simple question. Of the numbers of people announced as “dead” each day what does that mean.
In other words are these people who happened to have tested positive for coronavirus and died but the virus may not have been the cause of death. Or does it mean 70 people died as a direct consequence of having coronavirus?
This was interesting because the Somerset CCG felt unable to answer and referred us to Public Health England. Within a week we were being told of research that contrasted Covid-19 fatalities with that of flu. It is generally accepted that every year between 10,000 and around 27,000 people die of flu. The way these numbers are calculated is specific. These are people who would not have died from other causes, they are deaths due to flu that are over and above the number of deaths expected in the period if flu was absent.
Interestingly Covid-19 related deaths are not being reported this way. They are simply deaths of people who had tested positive for Covid-19.
Meanwhile research on the outbreak to date coming from China noted something interesting. For people who caught the virus and did NOT have either: cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes or respiratory disease; the death rate was less than 1%.
This fed into more work carried out by David Spiegelhalter a statistical expert at Cambridge University and Chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication is even more interesting. He has worked on the numbers compiled by the Imperial College team advising the government on its Covid-19 strategy.
His work showed how the trend in Covid-19 deaths increases dramatically with age. When he then overlaid that data on the way that background mortality (ie death rates without taking account of external factors) increases with age, he discovered the lines were almost identical.
What this means is that if you get the virus in the next 2 weeks, your risk of dying is exactly the same as it would have been of dying anyway in the next 12 months. Because it is also true that the most deaths occur each year in people who are already ill (and especially the illnesses identified in the Chinese figures).
This is not to say that government action is wrong
True the virus is not killing more people than would normally die within the next 12 months. However by accelerating the deaths of those who would be likely to die in the next 12 months anyway, into a matter of weeks, this really would put enormous strain on the NHS. It could potentially completely overwhelm it (to say nothing of the funeral industry, registrars and all the other people who have a role in processing deaths).
The government policy to restrict and restrain the spread is sensible and for sensible reasons. It is true that the Chinese study and Professor Spiegelhalter’s suggest that your risk of dying is not materially different as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. But for those in the population with underlying health conditions where the risk of death in the next 12 months is remains significant and very real.