Category Archives: featured

GET THE 10th Anniversary EDITION OF THE LEVELLER® RIGHT HERE!

Once again this month we are breaking with tradition and publishing the September edition online. Especially as it is our 10th birthday edition! If you cannot get out and pick up a hard copy of our paper, you can download a copy of The Leveller® as a pdf. If you’d like to do that, then you can do so here:

I know we’ve said this before, but the current situation is a bit fluid so we hope you enjoy the online edition if you cannot get out to find a copy.

We have significant;y increased the number of outlets for the paper over the past 3 months and we continue to do so. Meanwhile we promise to be back to normal as soon as the current situation allows.

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

Leveller-Commercial-Version-Final Sutton UpholsterersThere 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

Microsoft Word - Chalmers Advert Feb 2020 versionLast 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

Screenshot 2019-03-07 at 17.10.14Councils 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….

Taunton Assault

Care South Crewkerne home care qtr page 0420 HRIt 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)

You then have 2 options
Yes or No
If you have received no state aid in the last 3 years you should answer the question with “Yes”

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.

Residents shocked at SSDC plan

Residents of Ilminster were shocked when they read a revised plan prepared by South Somerset District Council. Yes Shudrick Valley is back in the Local Plan for South Somerset District Council (SSDC).

During the preparation of the last Local Plan a row broke out over the direction of growth. Local people, the town council had all argued against developing the Shudrick Valley area, with Canal Way being the preferred option.

SSDC ignored them and chose Shudrick Valley. The then council Leader, Rik Pallister, had to face an angry meeting of residents at the Shrubbery Hotel. At least he had the guts to turn up and face the music and he did it with calmness and good grace.

When the plan was published the Planning Inspector criticised SSDC for choosing the direction of growth for Ilminster as along Shurdrick Way. SSDC took on board the comments of the inspector and the final agreed plan was to have Canal Way as the direction of growth

At the time it was understood that the growth of the town would either be along Canal Way, (where planning has since been agreed for a substantial housing development) or the Shudrick Valley.

Now looking at SSDC’s plans for Ilminster it looks as if both are going to be heavily developed.

The question many Ilminster residents are asking is why?

After all the decision to develop Shudrick Valley was criticised by the Planning Inspector.  The direction of growth was then changed to Canal Way in order to get agreement from the Inspector.

Even after the Local Plan was agreed and approved by the Inspector, a planning application was received for 330 houses along Shudrick Valley. This was rejected, moderated to just 220 houses and then rejected again. The developer appealed and then lost the appeal.

So why is it now back in the Plan?

SSDC do not seem to have much of an answer. The Local Plan Review duly notes all the sad history and then simply dismisses it in fluffy words:

However, the Local Plan Review provides the opportunity to reconsider the allocation.”

The site is in a sustainable location adjacent to the town centre, and in particular, a supermarket.”

A sensitively designed scheme could potentially address the issues previously raised.”

Once more it seems as if the climate emergency and green agenda that is supposed to inform SSDC planning policy is nowhere to be seen. Another green field site set up for more development with housing that (based on other approvals given  by SSDC) is unlikely to be energy efficient.

More concerning though, it is as if the views of residents, and the old arguments around Shudrick Valley had never happened. Lets just reconsider sounds awfully like: let us keep going until we get the answer we want.  Once again it looks as if SSDC are ignoring the wishes of residents. A trait that many in Bruton, Mudford and Martock will recognise.

The Save Shudrick Valley Group  were already concerned that attempts have been made to lobby the Town Council to change the Neighbourhood Plan to include Shudrick Valley. They noted that “With 839 homes already suggested in the (Ilminster) Neighbourhood Plan, opening up Shudrick Valley once again to the possibility of housing development could mean Ilminster facing a total of over 1,000 new homes over the local plan period. That would be 2,500 people. Ilminster would change completely and virtually overnight from a lively, friendly, community spirited market town to a sprawling dormitory town with services that cannot cope.”

But it also begs more questions still. What is SSDC for? Is it their to represent the interests of residents and taxpayers, or of developers?

What was especially interesting was when we asked SSDC a simple question about whether they had been contacted or lobbied by the developer, the landowner or their agent before making the decision to put Shudrick Valley back in the Local Plan Review.

Instead of explaining, offering a reason or outright denying the fact, any one of which might have been entirely justifiable, the council instead noted “your request would appear to be more appropriate as a Freedom of Information request.

Interesting?

They kindly offered to treat our question as an FoI request and we have taken them up on their offer.