Wilmslow allows developers to accelerate planning permission

“This premium ‘fast-track’ service will be for significant, major planning applications – from initial inquiry to submission for planning decision – and is designed to cut through unnecessary delays.

The aim of this paid-for service will be to ensure major investment and job creation in Cheshire East does not suffer unnecessary delays and to generate a revenue stream for the Council which will enable additional resources to be brought in to deal with the large number of major applications submitted to Cheshire East.”

http://www.wilmslow.co.uk/news/article/12652/council-launches-paid-for-fast-track-planning-service

“Broadband a question of haves and havenots”, Councillor Twiss told EDDC Scrutiny.

Report sent to East Devon Watch:

‘More ‘best practice’ was evident at EDDC Scrutiny Committee at Knowle yesterday evening (12/11/2015). From the start, Chair Roger Giles (Independent, Ottery St Mary) insisted that presentations should be brief and not include the reading out of information that had been circulated to councillors in advance. Using questions and answers was a more useful tool for this committee , he advised.
This proved correct straightaway, in the close examination of Devon’s broadband provision. Five stakeholders had been called to speak and answer questions. They were Andrew Moulding, Chair of Devon County Council’s (DCC) Place Scrutiny Committee and Deputy Leader of East Devon District Council (EDDC); Cllr Phil Twiss, EDDC Corporate Services portfolio holder; Paul Coles, BT Regional Manager, South West ; Phil Roberts, Programme Manager for superfast broadband delivery, Connecting Devon & Somerset (CDS) ; and Graham Long, Upottery Parish Councillor, with 20 years’ experience with Hewlett Packard, for whom he ran the EU support network.

Questions included one sent, in her absence, from Cllr Susie Bond (Independent, Feniton & Buckerell), asking why the broadband situation in parts of her constituency was “appalling”. Particularly intense questioning came from Cllrs Marianne Rixson (Independent, Sidmouth Sidford Ward ) , and Val Ranger (Independent, Newton Poppleford & Harpford),who had clearly done their homework, both closely referring to the document submitted by CDS, and finding some apparent inaccuracies (e.g. Could the audit done by EDDC’s internal auditors, SWAP, properly be described as ‘independent’?). Cllr Ranger wondered why, of 26 interested parties in 2014, only two had submitted a formal tender.
Phil Roberts (CDS) reported that CDS had decided not to sign a second contact with BT, and that there would now be a different approach to tendering . For the next phase, CDS were currently looking at other providers , as well as talking to BT, he said.

Much of the time, Cllrs Moulding and Twiss looked uncomfortably out of their depth, not least when it emerged that EDDC and DCC had not worked together to obtain maximum funding, thereby missing out on millions of pounds.

Graham Long, “astonished to find how slow broadband is in Devon”, explained that “Fibre is best for reliability, speed and bandwidth. But fibre-to-cabinet works as an urbancentric solution. It doesn’t work in rural areas”. Cllr Ben Ingham (Independent, Woodbury & Lympstone) told the Committee, “I’m really flabbergasted that BT are picking the poor relation of technology”.

The broadband issue is certain to continue. Next Monday DCC’s Place Scrutiny Committee will hear CDS feedback on its recommendations (14h00, County Hall, Exeter). More questions and answers are no doubt being prepared!’

Somerset council cuts catastrophic

Westcountry council has frozen ‘non-essential’ spending saying their financial situation is even worse than anticipated and it is ‘living beyond its means.’

In an email sent to staff, Somerset County Council chief executive Pat Flaherty blamed austerity measures for a projected overspend, adding the authority could not cut into reserves which were already at the absolute minimum.

He said that as a result, vacancies would not be filled unless absolutely necessary, buildings would be maintained to the bare, safe minimum standards and other measures would be taken in non-statutory areas.

Unions have reacted angrily to the move, saying they’re is ‘no more meat on the bone’ in the authority which has had to cut £100million from its budget in four years.

In his email, which has been seen by the Western Morning News, Mr Flaherty said it was no secret that setting the budget was going to be hard.

However, he added: “Over the recent months and weeks the detail of just how difficult it is going to be has got clearer.

“Sadly, the clearer the picture gets, the worse it looks.

“We all know the root causes of this – continued austerity and ever growing demand on our services, especially those for vulnerable children and adults.”

Mr Flaherty said “the fact is we are continuing to live beyond our means” and unless “we turn a corner on spending” the council will be up to £8 million overspent by the end of the year.

He said: ” This would be unacceptable as it would deplete our already minimal reserves. We therefore need to take urgent action on the spend that we do have control over.”

He said he knew the step would not be popular and praised the work of staff that doesn’t readily fit under the heading of a statutory service.

“What I am saying does not devalue that work, it simply accepts the painful reality that this council has to reduce its spending immediately if we are to be able to fulfil our statutory requirements to support the most vulnerable people in our communities,” said.

Oliver Foster-Burnell, regional organiser for Unison, said areas like services for the homeless were already suffering.

“Here in Somerset the County Council have just announced proposals that are set to see £900,000 removed from funding given to homeless services, the impact of that on the local community will be huge and costs will be felt by other authorities like the police and social Services.”

He said that the council’s announcement means that it will now look closely at how it responds to things that it regards as non-essential services across the County.

“There is just no more meat that can come off the bone here in Somerset,” he said.

“Our members have seen restructures, redundancies, changes in working practices and our message to Government is that enough is enough.

“The council has stated it is set to overspend by £7 million, its overspend within other areas like children’s social care is set to reach £11 million by the end of this financial year and the council is already using its reserves to pay for that.”

In a statement issued to the WMN, Mr Flaherty said he had make sure the council balanced its books.

“We have to legally, and this is very difficult when our funding is being cut so dramatically and there is more demand for what we do.”

He said any overspend would cut away at reserves, which were already at the minimum recommended for a council of its size and budget.

“That minimum is there for a reason and I cannot put this authority in a position where it does not have the ability to respond to unforeseen costs.”

He said that while funding was falling, the demand for services was increasing.

“Demographic pressure alone is going to add around £5m to our costs next year alone,” said Mr Flaherty.

“Living within our means is challenging but it’s something we have to do.”

http://www.westernmorningnews.co.uk/West-council-freezes-spending-saying-living-means/story-28169728-detail/story.html

How do you lose nearly £4 million in expenditure? Easy if you are EDDC!

Page 9 – Annual Audit Letter from Grant Thornton:

We identified two adjustments affecting the Council’s reported financial position. The draft financial statements for the year ended 31 March 2015 presented for audit recorded net expenditure of £13.757m. Following the agreed audit adjustments, the audited financial statements showed net expenditure of £17.641m. The changes related to:

• reversal of upward revaluation of £1.546m to assets under construction which actually related to additions which had already been accounted for; and

• reversal of upward revaluation of infrastructure assets of £2.338m in year as the Code states such assets should be carried at historical cost and not fair value.

Click to access 191115-combined-agenda-a-and-g.pdf

Well spotted Grant Thornton!

Staff allowed judicial review of downgrade of their hospital

“Irwin Mitchell lawyer Mathieu Culverhouse said: “Concerned members of staff at Wythenshawe Hospital truly believe that the loss of specialist status will have a catastrophic impact on the hospital’s ability to deliver quality care to patients and we are delighted that the decision not to award specialist status to Wythenshawe Hospital will now be reviewed.

“It is vital that decisions of this nature, which affect the health services available to the public of Greater Manchester, are made properly and in accordance with the law and we are determined to ensure that the decision making process is given the appropriate scrutiny by the court.”

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=25101:court-gives-permission-for-judicial-review-challenge-over-hospital-downgrade&catid=174&Itemid=99

The health trust had already allocated £500,000 towards funding any challenge to their plans.

“The legal appeal by the Keep Wythenshawe Special group is being self-funded through personal contributions by staff at Wythenshawe hospital, along with former patients and their families and local people in Wythenshawe.”

http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/judge-grants-judicial-review-campaigners-10418635

Why we need the Freedom of Information Act

It isn’t perfect but it is all we have – and MPs and civil servants want to take it away from us:

Sir Jeremy Heywood, Britain’s top civil servant, who wants to limit our Freedom of Information Act, though his plans have been greeted with incredulity and derision even within government.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3316327/Sir-Cover-plot-kill-right-know-expose-public-sector-fat-cats-impossible-without-Freedom-Information-Act-No-wonder-Whitehall-s-cynical-mandarin-wants-rid-it.html

What happened when a Devon river was polluted by slurry

“Toothless Environment Agency is allowing the living world to be wrecked with impunity”

” … The Environment Agency no longer prosecutes even some of the most extreme pollution events. In 2013, a farmer in Somerset released what the agency called a “tsunami of slurry” into the Wellow Brook. One inspector said it was the worst pollution she had seen in 17 years. But the agency dithered for a year before striking a private agreement with the farmer, allowing him to avoid possible prosecution, criminal record, massive fine and court costs, by giving £5,000 to a local charity.

New rules imposed by the government means that such under-the-counter deals, which now have a name of their own – enforcement undertakings – are likely to become more common. They are a parody of justice: arbitrary, opaque and wide open to influence-peddling, special pleading and corruption.”

http://gu.com/p/4e5jg