Covid in Wales: Online education patchy and inconsistent

Online education is “patchy and inconsistent” and there should be a clearer national approach, according to Wales’ future generations commissioner.

Sophie Howe said the Welsh Government should do more to ensure consistency of learning by schools across Wales.

Schools are set to remain closed until at least the end of February, with teaching delivered remotely.

The Welsh Government said it had been commended for the way it had provided devices to access online learning.

Ms Howe said “real leadership from the top” was needed along with clarity about what parents should expect regarding “how many hours, what type of work, how we should be using digital platforms, and indeed how best to support parents to facilitate all of that”.

She said a chief digital officer for education was needed.

“What we’re seeing at the moment is parents having to compete with multiple different platforms. I think I counted about six or seven that my four children are on,” she said.

“It does seem that some schools are offering face-to-face virtual lessons, some are just offering worksheets and so on.”

The Welsh Government said it had successfully provided laptops and MiFi devices to families who were struggling to access online learning, plus guidance and training for teachers.

It confirmed there was no legal duty on schools in Wales to deliver a minimum amount of online teaching after schools in England were told it would be mandatory to deliver three to five hours of remote learning per day – a duty overseen by school inspectors.

The Welsh Government said the inspectorate, Estyn, was not formally overseeing the delivery of remote learning in Wales but had been part of a Blended Learning Working Group which also involved regional education consortia and local authorities.

Guidance to schools says pupils should generally receive “the duration of learning time they would receive were they in school”.

Nick Langston, a professional guitarist from Chepstow, Monmouthshire, and his wife Lisa, a solicitor, are helping home school their two young children.

Their eight-year-old son is required to complete one piece of literacy and numeracy, and another topic every day which is set online and then sent back to teachers to be marked.

Nick said: “We were concerned initially that we’d be expected to be teaching the kids for six hours a day, which would have been quite a challenge.

“But, actually, the big focus seems to be on making sure the kids’ reading and writing keep going, and their numbers keep going, and then they’ve given us flexibility.”

Lisa said the communication from the primary school has been “fantastic”.

She said: “They respond really quickly which is great because obviously they’ve got a lot of children to respond to, and they’re very positive in their comments and encouraging and pushing the children along.

“There’s a real interaction between the kids and the teacher which has been great.”

Nick and Lisa’s eight-year-old son Henry said he found doing his school work at home “good” although it could be “a bit stressful doing it”.

He said he had been completing maths, spelling and work learning about the forest, at home.

“It gets my brain working through the day.

“But it has been a bit annoying because everybody is talking and you have to concentrate to do work,” he said.

Meanwhile 17-year-old A-level student Jackson said the lesson work he is set was “not that different” to when he was in school.

“It varies for each lesson, ranging from 15 minutes to the entire hour,” he said.

Plaid Cymru said the Welsh Government needed a plan to get rid of a “postcode lottery” of provision and the government should provide clear expectations for teachers to address inconsistencies “from school to school and pupil to pupil”.

“There should be a clearer expectation on schools [and] teachers coming from the Welsh Government that remote learning has to be ramped up. There should be national expectations set out that does include remote learning,” said education spokesperson Sian Gwenllian.

“Obviously, face-to-face learning is the best way and anything that can replicate that, remotely, needs to be the focus – so live streaming of lessons and individual lessons between smaller groups.”

The Welsh Conservatives said the situation had improved since schools were closed in March but the picture was still “not very consistent”.

“I think there’s a case to be made for a minimum number of hours, but without being prescriptive about what those hours are used for because teachers are best placed to know how individual classes would work,” said the party’s education spokesperson Suzy Davies.

She said the regional education consortia should have a role in monitoring the quality of provision and “supervising and supporting teachers”.

The schools watchdog Estyn said provision was becoming “less variable” than during the first lockdown.

Meilyr Rowlands, chief inspector of education, said education staff had risen to the challenges posed by the pandemic.

“The periods of learning from home has meant that all schools have had to think afresh about how pupils learn and how face-to-face teaching can best promote resilience and independent learning skills,” he said.

“Overall, the education and training system is now better prepared for distance learning and the provision is becoming less variable than during the first lockdown.

“As a result, schools and other providers are planning to implement more extensive programmes of live-streamed and pre-recorded lessons for learners during the current lockdown period.”

Eithne Hughes, director of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) Cymru, said schools were now in a far better position than at the outset of the pandemic to deliver remote teaching.

“We will also be talking to the Welsh Government about how schools can be best supported in order to ensure this provision is of the highest quality,” she said.

“However, the success or otherwise of remote education is not entirely within their power.

“Some children will not have access to a laptop or tablet, or will have to share access, or will not have a stable internet connection, or a quiet space in their homes.”

Cramlington woman celebrates 100th birthday with covid jab

A woman has celebrated her 100th birthday by getting a covid vaccination at home.

Isabella Curry, known as Ella, from Cramlington, was among some of the most vulnerable people in Northumberland to receive the vaccine.

Ms Curry, who lives alone, urged others not to be afraid to get the jab and said it was just a little “prick in the arm” and she now felt safe.

Her birthday was also marked by the arrival of a card from the Queen.

She said: “This vaccine means I’ll be able to go out, meet my friends soon and feel safe.”

Ms Curry’s nephew, Neil Curry from Bristol, said he was delighted she had had the vaccination but sad the whole family could not get together for the milestone birthday.

“We had a family reunion for Ella’s 90th – we all got together in Newcastle. We would have all got together again to mark this occasion, but we couldn’t,” he said.

He also said he wanted to thank the “army” of people who looked after his aunt including Noreen and Jim Hutchinson, who did her shopping and cut her grass.

He also thanked June and Peter Marshall and all the other people who collected her prescriptions and mobile library books.

Kate Fraser, the community nurse who administered the vaccination, said: “It’s been an emotional time being able to give Isabella her vaccination.”

Covid in Scotland: How could lockdown rules change?

As Scotland’s hospitals fill with Covid patients and the death toll passes 5,000, there are concerns the “stay at home” message is not having the same impact it did during last year’s lockdown.

Ministers have been discussing the possibility of tightening the current restrictions on people’s lives and an announcement on their decision is expected later.

What changes can we expect, and how do Scotland’s current lockdown rules compare to those imposed last March?

Lockdown 2020

Last March outdoor exercise was allowed only if people were alone or with someone from their own household. It was initially limited to once a day, before this restriction was eased in May 2020.

All exercise had to be done close to home. No mixing with other households or other any outdoor relaxation was allowed.

Lockdown 2021

Currently no more than two people from separate households are allowed to meet for outdoor sport or exercise. Children under 12 years old do not count towards this number.

There is no limit on how many times you can go out to exercise each day, but you should still stay close to home and avoid crowded areas.

Prof Jason Leitch, Scotland’s clinical director, says police enforcement is used as “last resort” against people who break the rules in Scotland.

But the UK government has warned that exercise restrictions may be tightened after “large groups” flouted their own two-person rule. Could Scotland follow suit?

Lockdown 2020

Schools and nurseries were closed last March, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying there were too many absent staff to continue.

Many teachers prepared homeworking packs and some online learning, and parents and pupils had to get used to home schooling.

Children of essential workers and vulnerable pupils were looked after by staff in childcare hubs.

Lockdown 2021

Schools began the January 2021 term largely via online and remote learning.

As before, only children of key workers and vulnerable children are allowed in classrooms – but this time there is more focus on learning than simply child care.

The number of pupils attending school is much higher than last year.

Prof Leitch suggests this may be because Scotland has “too much open” in the rest of society with working adults in greater need of childcare. He said a “sweet spot” needs to be found to keep children and adults safe.

The Scottish government hopes pupils can return to the classroom in February, but this plan is to be kept under review.

See where coronavirus case rates have been rising in Scotland with this interactive map.

Lockdown 2020

People were told to stay at home except for essential shopping for food or medicine, going out for their daily exercise, or to care for the vulnerable.

Employers were asked to make provisions for staff to work from home. Wearing of face coverings on public transport was not initially required, but became mandatory in Scotland in June.

Lockdown 2021

It is a legal requirement not to leave home for anything other than essential purposes. A “reasonable excuse” can include essential shopping, exercise or caring responsibilities.

People should only go out to work if it absolutely cannot be done from home. It is illegal to travel between Scotland and other parts of the UK unless the journey is essential.

There are no expectations of enhanced travel restrictions, as the rules are already “pretty tight” says Prof Leitch.

“We have a stay at home law, it is illegal to fly overseas, it is illegal to travel, it is illegal to leave your home without a reason to do so,” he added.

The latest contact tracing figures from Public Health Scotland show that since November, shops have accounted for 19% of the places visited by people the week before their positive test.

While these figures don’t tell us whether people contracted the virus in a specific location, they do suggest the most likely sources.

The number of cases traced to shopping-related locations increased by 83% between 27 December and 3 January.

Other large increases were seen when:

Lockdown 2020

Last March non-essential shops were ordered to shut along with cafes, bars, restaurants and cinemas. Supermarkets and pharmacies were among premises which could stay open.

In July a new law made it compulsory to wear a face covering in shops across Scotland.

Lockdown 2021

All pubs, restaurants and cafes must remain closed in Scotland’s level four areas – although they can still serve takeaway food. The definition of “essential retail” has also been narrowed, forcing homeware shops and garden centres to close once again.

Click-and-collect and online services can remain open, but Prof Leitch says the Scottish government is expected to re-examine these rules and also reconsider whether takeaways can remain open.

Lockdown 2020

In March “essential” was the key word for all employers. Businesses were told they could only stay open if what they do was “essential” to the effort of tackling Covid or the wellbeing of society.

Nicola Sturgeon said building sites should close unless they involved work on an “essential building” such as a hospital. Visits from tradespeople were allowed only for “essential repairs”.

Lockdown 2021

Outdoor workplaces, construction, manufacturing, veterinary services and film and TV production can remain open. Employers have been told to plan for the minimum number of people needed on site to operate safely and effectively.

Home visits by tradespeople are still allowed for essential services, but Prof Leitch says the Scottish government is examining current rules around what constitutes essential and non-essential construction.

Alex Salmond invited to give evidence to Holyrood inquiry

Alex Salmond has been invited to give evidence to MSPs investigating the government’s botched handling of harassment complaints against him.

However the former first minister’s lawyers have warned that he may not attend unless the government releases more papers about the case.

The inquiry committee wants Mr Salmond to come to Holyrood on 19 January.

But his lawyers say it would be “highly problematic” for him to attend without “the full evidence” being available.

They want the government to publish “key material” from its legal battle with Mr Salmond and the criminal case against him – which ultimately saw him acquitted of 13 charges of sexual assault.

The government contends that it has provided thousands of pages of documentation – and that it has been prevented from disclosing some other papers due to objections from Mr Salmond’s legal team.

Mr Salmond took legal action against the Scottish government in 2018 over its handling of two internal harassment complaints against him.

The government eventually conceded its investigation had been “unlawful” and agreed to pay the former first minister £500,000 in legal costs, and a Holyrood inquiry was set up to examine what went wrong.

Mr Salmond has since become locked in an escalating public row with current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon about her involvement, having accused her of misleading parliament and breaking the ministerial code.

Ms Sturgeon has denied these claims, and has said she looks forward to giving evidence herself in the coming weeks.

On Tuesday, the inquiry committee’s convener – SNP MSP Linda Fabiani – wrote to Mr Salmond to invite him to give evidence in person at Holyrood on 19 January.

However the committee also published a letter from Mr Salmond’s lawyers dated 8 January, which cast doubt on whether he will take up the invitation.

The letter from law firm Levy & McRae said Mr Salmond wanted to “cooperate fully” with the committee, but had been warned that he “would be committing a criminal offence” if he referred to material which was obtained from the government by his defence team during the High Court trial.

It said Mr Salmond – who previously said he was prepared to go to court to force the release of certain documents – could only give a “complete account” with this key material in hand, adding: “The idea that he gives evidence before that material is produced is highly problematic.”

The letter added that Mr Salmond has “an underlying health condition”, questioning whether it was realistic for him to give evidence in person during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Ms Fabiani’s letter of 12 January sought to address the final point, saying they would give “high priority” to protecting his health and wellbeing.

She said the committee “appreciates that you would wish to access evidence from the criminal trial in order to go into more detail when you appear”, but said they had little time to complete their sessions before the Holyrood election.

The Scottish government has also been involved in lengthy exchanges with Mr Salmond’s lawyers about the release of documents, as well as an ongoing row with the committee about the release of legal advice.

Earlier on Tuesday, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans told the committee that “what the Scottish government can share, it has”, saying they would “provide the committee with as much material as possible”.

Brexit: Supermarkets says urgent intervention needed over NI food supplies

The UK’s major supermarkets have warned the government that an “urgent intervention” is needed to prevent further disruption to NI food supplies.

There have been shortages of some products in NI as retailers grapple with post-Brexit arrangements for importing food products from GB.

The chief executives of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Iceland, Co-Op and Marks & Spencer have written to Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove.

They said that if further new certification requirements are introduced in April the system will become “unworkable”.

The government said a new dedicated team has already been set up and will be working with supermarkets, the food industry and the Northern Ireland Executive to develop ways to streamline the movement of goods.

Since 31 December Northern Ireland has remained a part of the EU’s single market for goods while the rest of the UK has left.

That means food products entering NI from GB need to be professionally certified and are subject to new checks and controls at ports.

A three month “grace period” means that supermarkets currently don’t need to comply with all the EU’s usual certification requirements.

However, the movement of food products from GB to NI has faced disruption.

M&S has temporarily reduced its range of food products and Sainsbury’s has been sourcing Spar-branded products from a NI wholesaler.

In their letter, the supermarket chief executives said that if the grace period expires without a long term solution the problems will get worse.

They said: “We accept clear progress needs to be made by 1/4/21 and are happy to discuss our issues and solutions directly with EU officials.

“However, until then we need an assurance that the current process based on a trusted trader scheme… doesn’t change until a workable replacement is agreed.”

A government spokesman said: “The grace period for supermarkets and their suppliers is working well, goods continue to flow effectively between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and we are working intensively with industry as new requirements come in.”

Boy, 14, charged with Stockport restaurant owners murder

A 14-year-old boy has been charged with murdering a man who was hit by his own car.

Restaurant owner Mohammed Islam, 53, of Tameside, was delivering food when he was knocked down in Romiley, Stockport.

His Mercedes was found abandoned in Denton on Monday with attempts made to set the vehicle on fire.

The teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has been remanded in custody and is due before Manchester magistrates on Wednesday.

The youth has also been charged numerous driving offences.

Mr Islam, who was also known as Nowab Miah, owned the Marple Spice restaurant in Marple.

He was left fighting for his life after being knocked down at the junction of Lyme Grove and Hazel Avenue at about 21:00 GMT on Friday.

He was taken to hospital but died of his injuries on Sunday.

His family said they have been left “devastated beyond belief”.

Det Ch Insp Liam Boden, of Greater Manchester Police, paid tribute to Mr Islam’s family for “admirable bravery and dignity during the most tragic of circumstances imaginable”.

He urged anyone with information or footage of the incident to come forward.

Covid: Birmingham hospitals move 200 doctors to intensive care duties

Two hundred doctors will be redeployed to one of England’s largest intensive care units amid fears it could be “overwhelmed”.

A leaked memo warned hospitals in Birmingham were “in a position of extremis” as Covid-19 cases rise.

Elective surgeries at the city’s main Queen Elizabeth Hospital will stop as staff move to critical care duties.

A spokesperson said the approach ensured “the greatest good for the greatest numbers of people”.

The trust’s decision to redeploy doctors was revealed in a leaked email to the Health Service Journal, which has been verified by the BBC.

Sent by consultant Peter Hewins, it said hospitals in Birmingham risked being “overwhelmed” amid a “period of absolute emergency”.

The University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) said there were 873 patients with Covid-19 across its sites, with 125 in intensive care.

This was significantly more than in April 2020, it said, as it announced plans to double its intensive care capacity to more than 250 beds.

Time-critical surgery, including cancer operations, will continue, the trust said, but elective procedures at the Queen Elizabeth will be paused, and reduced elsewhere.

There will also be a “further reduction of outpatient activity”, a spokesperson said, adding: “Every member of staff will be supported by the Trust in delivering the best care wherever they are working.”

Neighbouring University Coventry and Warwickshire Hospitals Trust confirmed it had started taking Covid patients from Birmingham.

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) is one of the largest teaching hospital trusts in England.

It runs several hospitals, including Birmingham Heartlands, the Queen Elizabeth, Solihull Hospital and Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield. It also runs Birmingham Chest Clinic.

Naomi Campbells Kenya tourism role causes row

The appointment of British supermodel Naomi Campbell as Kenya’s tourism ambassador has caused a Twitter storm in the East African nation.

Many queried why it had not been given to a prominent Kenyan like Hollywood actress Lupita Nyong’o.

Others leapt to her defence, saying the debate already justified her role.

Kenya’s tourism sector has been badly hit by coronavirus, with visitor numbers down by 72% between January and October last year.

“The sector hence lost over 110bn Kenyan shillings [$1bn, £738m] of direct international tourists’ revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Kenya’s Tourism Research Institute reported last month.

The country is famous for its wildlife safaris and beach resorts.

Kenyan Tourism Minister Najib Balala said the deal with Ms Campbell was done over the weekend after he met the model, who is currently on holiday in Kenya.

The 50-year-old style icon and philanthropist has been posting images of her stay on Instagram, where she has 10 million followers.

“We welcome the exciting news that Naomi Campbell will advocate for tourism and travel internationally for the Magical Kenya brand,” Mr Balala said, without giving further deals of the contract.

But the statement, posted on Twitter on Tuesday, prompted instant outrage from some, and the supermodel’s name has since been trending in the country.

One tweeter cited other Kenyan celebrities better suited to the ambassadorial role, including models Ajuma Nasenyana and Debra Sanaipei, as well as Nyong’o.

One tweeter said the backlash revealed an unhealthy attitude in Kenya: “At the end of the day, it’s all about who will get the job done. This mentality is what causes nepotism and tribalism in Kenyan institutions, it should be about the most suitable candidate not ‘one of our own’ thing.”

Ms Campbell’s defenders praised her for visiting Kenya several times and said it was not only the model’s social media following that made her the perfect appointment.

Her circle of friends were equally important as she would attract wealthy tourists willing to spend money.

The tourism industry usually contributes about 8.8% to Kenya’s annual Gross domestic product (GDP), according to Kenya’s East African newspaper.

Brexit: Pressure mounts on UK government to resolve EU touring visas for musicians

Pressure is mounting on the UK government to resolve issues around EU touring visas for musicians and crews.

Since leaving the EU, British musicians are no longer guaranteed visa-free travel and may need additional work permits to play in some countries.

Composer and cross-bench member of the House of Lords, Michael Berkeley, said it left many in a “perilous position”.

The Association of Independent Music called for the two sides “to speedily return to the negotiating table”.

Meanwhile, a petition signed by Laura Marling, Biffy Clyro and Dua Lipa is calling on the government to “negotiate a free cultural work permit” that would allow “bands, musicians, artists, TV and sports celebrities that tour the EU to perform shows and events and carnet exception for touring equipment”.

At the time of writing, more than 250,000 people have signed the petition.

The UK government confirmed on Monday that “the door remains open” for further talks.

The BBC has also asked the EU for a response, but has yet to receive a reply.

Now that free movement has ended, UK musicians and crews will need a visa for stays of longer than 90 days in a 180-day period. Certain EU countries will also require additional work permits on arrival; and touring bands will also have to pay for carnets (permits) for their equipment and merchandise.

According to the Association of British Orchestras, another barrier is the imposition of limits on road haulage – with new rules stating drivers must return to the UK after visiting two EU member states.

“This makes the standard touring model of moving musical instruments by truck from the UK to venues in multiple countries impossible,” said the ABO.

“The UK’s orchestras will need to look at hiring in European road haulage operators at additional expense.”

In December, the government said it had tried to secure better conditions for UK touring musicians during the Brexit negotiations, but its proposals were rejected by the EU.

Last weekend, a story in the Independent newspaper pushed back at those claims. In it, an unnamed EU source told the newspaper that a “standard” proposal to exempt performers from the cost and bureaucracy of obtaining permits had been proposed – but the UK refused to agree because “they were ending freedom of movement”.

On Monday, a government spokeswoman told the BBC that the article was “incorrect and misleading speculation from anonymous EU sources”.

“It is not true we turned down a bespoke arrangement from the EU to allow musicians to work and perform in member states,” she said. “The UK Government has and always will support ambitious arrangements for performers and artists to be able to work and tour across Europe.

“As suggested by the creative arts sector, the UK proposed to capture the work done by musicians, artists and entertainers, and their accompanying staff, through the list of permitted activities for short-term business visitors,” she continued. “This would have allowed musicians and support staff to travel and perform in the UK and the EU more easily, without needing work permits.

“Unfortunately the EU repeatedly refused the proposals we made on behalf of the UK’s creative arts sector. We are clear that our door remains open should the EU change its mind. We will endeavour to make it as straightforward as possible for UK artists to travel and work in the EU.”

Radiohead’s Thom Yorke called the government “spineless” for its handling of the situation; while The Charlatans’ frontman Tim Burgess told The Independent that musicians “have been betrayed by this Brexit deal”.

Composer Michael Berkeley has tabled a question about touring visas in the House of Lords, and hopes it will be debated next week.

“The combination of Covid and Brexit means that a lot of musicians are in a terribly perilous position at the moment,” he told the BBC.

“It’s a double whammy because many musicians are freelance and have fallen through the government support network and the government admits this.”

Parts of the music industry have benefitted from the government’s £1.57bn Culture Recovery Fund and furlough scheme, although Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden have previously acknowledged that their policies will not save every worker or organisation.

Berkeley believes the government is “supporting the fishing industry [worth around £1.4bn] in a way that they’re not supporting the creative industries, and music [worth around £5.8bn] in particular.”

“This is kind of an own goal if we can’t sort it,” he said.

“So, if we are to hold on to our precious cultural heritage, this really does need to be sorted out.

“British musicians in particular – and musicians doesn’t just mean symphony orchestras and string quartets, it means rock groups like Radiohead, and dancers in touring bands – if these people can’t tour we will be denying them, and the British economy, a huge slice of income,” he added.

The Association of Independent Music (AIM) said UK artists could now face “more administrative costs and barriers” than those from different parts of the world, which they suggested did not constitute “a close partnership with our nearest neighbours”.

“Much about Brexit is not as the UK music industry wanted and there are, inevitably, complexities to the UK’s new relationship with the EU,” said Aim CEO, Paul Pacifico.

“However, it is essential that we focus on real issues where they arise, such as work permits, VAT and data, and work with government and EU counterparts to fix them. We must remain disciplined and focussed to ensure the music industry makes the most of every opportunity in spite of these problematic areas whilst we continue to push for a better outcome.”

The Musicians’ Union called for renewed efforts to resolve the situation. “Negotiators on both sides should continue to acknowledge the importance of cultural life and its huge social and economic value by finding an acceptable solution,” said general secretary Horace Trubridge.

Taking a different view, The Telegraph’s Neil McCormick described the debate as “a storm in a backstage teacup”.

Music agent Paul Fenn, whose company Asgard Promotions boasts acts such as The Waterboys, Ray Davies, Emmylou Harris, Tom Waits and Alison Krauss, told the journalist that very little had changed.

Under the new post-Brexit agreement, he pointed out, EU countries will treat British people as third country nationals – just like Americans, Canadians and Australians. “Now, I make a living sending American artists around Europe and, with one or two exceptions, it’s easy, we have no problems,” said Fenn.

“On the surface there doesn’t appear to be any changes for British acts going into Europe in 2021.”

Promoter and music business consultant Chris Pleydell added: “For large promoters, it won’t change anything. I know of not one band to ever spend 90 days touring Europe, it’s absurd. Fourteen days in Europe is about the average.”

The Who’s Roger Daltrey was also sceptical of the impact. “What’s [Brexit] got to do with the rock business?” he asked a Sky New reporter. “As if we didn’t tour in Europe before the EU.”

Other major music artists including Garbage, Ash, Holly Johnson, Rina Sawayama, Louis Tomlinson and Ronan Keating seemed to disagree, and have all encouraged their fans to sign the petition calling for action.

Tim Brennan, the live music camera director who set up the petition, believes that the new status quo would cause “chaos” for crews moving in and out of different countries.

He would like to see the introduction of a single work permit, valid for a year, allowing multiple entries across the EU.

“Unless the government acts fast, thousands of UK touring professionals will lose their livelihoods, with grim consequences for a UK success story,” he wrote in his most recent blog.

“This dilemma isn’t limited to music tours. It affects anyone who tours the EU professionally, from ballet dancers and orchestras to theatre productions and sports personalities.

“And the cast of thousands who put the stars in the spotlight when the lights go down – both on the continent and here in the UK, too.”

Greg Parmley, CEO of events company Live, who represent the interests of live music in the UK, echoed those sentiments, noting how the sector was already facing “a catastrophic situation” due to coronavirus shutting the industry down.

“All parties need to work quickly to ensure that once Covid restrictions are lifted UK artists are able to work across the EU with the same freedom that has been secured for people doing other business activity,” he said.

Rashford: Free school meals firm apologises over small parcel

The company at the heart of an outcry over the size of food parcels going to the poorest pupils while schools are in lockdown in England has apologised.

Marcus Rashford sought a meeting with the firm, Chartwells, after seeing a photo of the measly parcel on Twitter.

The post, by someone calling herself Roadside Mum, was picked up by news outlets which then quizzed Downing Street officials about it.

Some hours later the firm agreed the parcel had fallen short on quantity.

The mother, who posted the photo of two carrots, two potatoes and a tin of baked beans and a small range of food items, said she calculated the cost to be only about £5.

It was retweeted 15,000 times on Twitter and received 36,000 likes

The mother, who does not want to be identified, had thought it was supposed to last 10 school days and should have been worth £30.

But Chartwells said it was actually only intended to last one school week, but acknowledged it was insufficient.

It said in a statement: “For clarity this shows five days of free school lunches (not 10 days) and the charge for food, packing and distribution was actually £10.50 and not £30 as suggested.

“However, in our efforts to provide thousands of food parcels a week, at extremely short notice, we are very sorry the quantity has fallen short in this instance.”

It added that its “10-day hampers” typically included a wide variety of nutritious food items to support the provision of lunches for children.

Marcus Rashford had shared images of what appeared to be food parcels, saying they were “not good enough”, that children should not go hungry and that “we must do better” – and he asked for a meeting with Chartwells.

This prompted Downing Street to say it was “completely unacceptable”, and that the parcels should be healthy and sufficient for the task.

Children’s Minister Vicky Ford then began an investigation.

A spokesman for Chartwells, which is owned by Compass group, said it had now had time to investigate the photo.

The photo showed five days worth of food rather than the 10 days suggested, he said, but he acknowledged that it was not sufficient.

“In our efforts to provide thousands of food parcels a week at extremely short notice we are very sorry the quantity has fallen short in this instance.

“Our 10-day hampers typically include a wide variety of nutritious food items to support the provision of lunches for children.”

He added that the firm would further enhance its food parcels following the Department for Education’s additional allowance of £3.50 per week per child, in line with nutritional guidelines.

The DfE which has clear guidelines for parcels, will shortly be opening a similar voucher scheme to the one operational during the first school lockdown.

During the lockdown, schools have been told to continue providing free meals for those who are learning at home and have currently been urged to use their usual caterers to offer food parcels.

If schools cannot provide parcels, they can consider other arrangements, which might include vouchers for local shops and supermarkets.

The post prompted others to complain about the food being provided by schools generally.

Mother-of-three, Kerry Wilks, from Redcar in north-east England, received a package at her youngest child’s school containing a loaf of bread, three yoghurts, a tin of beans, tuna, two potatoes, four pieces of fruit and two slices of cheese.

“Even the teaching staff were quite embarrassed by giving them out,” Ms Wilks, 38, said.

“I think what’s really bugged me about it is the fact that there’s two pieces of square cheese wrapped in cling film – I just find it so degrading.”

Chef Wayne Sullivan, who lives in the Cotswolds and has three school-age children, said he has been collecting packed lunches from his two boys’ school daily and was “horrified” by the contents and posted an image online.

Mr Sullivan, a former MasterChef contestant, told the BBC: “There’s probably about 55p worth of food. It’s not been prepared with any care or attention, and nutritionally it’s not balanced.”

Jack Monroe, food campaigner and chef, said the government should reinstate the voucher system “that gave people dignity” and allowed people to make choices about what they could feed themselves and their children “in these difficult times”.

Meanwhile, some head teachers have been going to extraordinary lengths to make sure their pupils can eat”.

Zane Powles, assistant head teacher at Western Primary School in Grimsby, said the night after the school lockdown was announced, he went to the supermarket to get “all our packed lunches for the next two days”.

What he bought was “much better” and cheaper than what he gets from the company he uses, he said.

A spokesman for Laca, the School Food People, said it was “disappointed” to see the pictures of food parcels, adding they did not meet the standards.

After his meeting with Chartwells, Rashford said: “One thing that is clear is that there was very little communication with the suppliers that a national lockdown was coming.

“We MUST do better. Children shouldn’t be going hungry on the basis that we aren’t communicating or being transparent with plans. That is unacceptable,” the footballer added.

Reacting to the initial images, Sir Keir Starmer tweeted that the food appeared to be “woefully inadequate” and said it needed “sorting immediately”.

Children’s minister Vicky Ford said: “Food parcels should cover all lunchtime meals and be nutritious.

“We’ve increased funding for parcels and will support local vouchers – national voucher also rolling out ASAP, working night and day on this. Hope your kids are ok.”

The DfE says it will open a national scheme to provide supermarket vouchers via an online portal “as soon as possible”.

Source: Department for Education

Rashford has been a high-profile campaigner for children on free school meals and brought about several U-turns on the provision of food during the school holidays.

In Wales, free school meals during the holidays has been extended by a year, and the Northern Ireland Executive made a pledge in November to provide free school meals in holidays until Easter 2022.

In Scotland – where holiday provision is currently promised up to Easter 2021 – both the SNP and the Scottish Conservatives have pledged to fund free school meals for all primary school pupils during term-time and holidays if they win the 2021 Scottish election.

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