Owl’s alternative Christmas message

New improved ways of working will make us a leaner and more efficient modern council says the Leader of East Devon District Council, Councillor Paul Diviani in his Christmas message

(translation: we know we have always been a bloated and inefficient council but this is the sort of thing our public relations people tell us we have to say)

“A friend of mine recently told me that when she first moved to East Devon to take up a new job, she thought she had died and gone to heaven. Even now, having lived here for 12 years, she says she still wakes up every morning thinking how unbelievably lucky she is to live and work in such a wonderful place.

There is almost NO doubt that this “friend” will be living in the Blackdown Hills where our Leader protects his backyard like no other).

“East Devon inspires this level of passion in people and no more so than in myself, my fellow councillors and the officers of East Devon District Council. We are all passionate about the work that we do and, above all, we want to ensure that East Devon remains a fantastic place for people like us to live in, work, visit and enjoy.

Why wouldn’t you say you are passionate when “people like you” get a lot of money so that you can live, work and enjoy your status whilst people like “us” get a lot less so that we can find our daily commute a nightmare, our work seasonal and low-paid and our enjoyment of council provided services something we remember from the distant past.

“So over the next four years we will be rising to meet the many challenges that reduced funding and increased demands on our services brings. In order to make necessary savings of £2.6m, we will be using new ways of working, involving systems thinking principles and our ‘WorkSmart‘ approach, which together harness the latest technology and modern working practices. Our move from Knowle to new accommodation in Honiton and Exmouth is part of this plan and will help us become a modern day council in every sense of the word.

Over the next four years we are going to have to do the darnedest to make you think that things are getting better whilst we slash services, increase costs for those that are left and hope like hell that we can keep the REAL cost of the move from Knowle under wraps. And presumably, “we” didn’t WorkSmart before but we will gloss over that.

“All of this will make us leaner, more efficient and better placed to deliver the kind of service that we know you, the residents of East Devon want. We are keen to keep improving and to help us do so, we will be listening to what you have to say in consultations and through our viewpoint surveys.

WE may be getting leaner, but our fat cats (particularly our developers) will be getting fatter and fatter. We’ve covered “more efficient and better” above – the repetition is getting a bit tedious now!

“Great services and great service, first time and every time is the standard that we have set for ourselves. To do that we need to be bold, creative, open and innovative, but above all we must pull together as one council. These are values that set us apart and make the council a place where people want to work – in fact, over 93% of our staff said they would recommend the council as a place to work!

Well, yes, you will get great service and great services if you are a developer. But, frankly, for the rest of us, if you turn out to be timid, hidebound, closed and backwards we will never hear about it from you. And they are NOT “great values that set you apart” – it is how ALL councils are supposed to be! And can we see that survey of the staff please – in its entirety as, so often, your so-called surveys leave a lot to be desired in terms of design.

Focus on four priorities
“To help us deliver these aspirations, we have developed our new council plan, which provides a constant focus on four main priorities:
(ALL councils focus on four or more priorities – this seems to be a public relations rule – but hope that everyone forgets what they were before a local election. East Devon Watch will NOT forget on your behalf.

“We will be encouraging our communities to be outstanding, by helping them to solve their local problems. We also want to encourage people to live healthier, more active lifestyles through sport and exercise and to make the most of the wonderful countryside that surrounds us.

Don’t come to us when you want money or help – do it yourself – and when it all gets too much take a LONG walk in what countryside remains after we have concreted over most of it.

“We will continue to promote East Devon as an outstanding place in which to do business and we will strengthen the local economy by attracting inward investment and supporting businesses.
Developers – we are still your bestest friend. Businesses that we approve of – we are the council that gave you the East Devon Business Forum and its leader Graham Brown and now give you (or rather they give to you via us) the Local Enterprise Partnership. Businesses that we don’t approve of – fend for yourselves.

“It is so important that our natural and built environment is protected and we will be working to reduce levels of waste produced in the district, as well as controlling levels of pollution through education and enforcement of environmental legislation.

Have to say, this one almost renders Owl speechless (or rather hootless) – they are going to reduce pollution by educating US! And “enforcement of environmental legislation” – remember that this government is attempting to water down environmental legislation to almost homeopathic levels and our council is slavishly behind this government in every respect.

“We will be prioritising a culture of openness and transparency by keeping our residents fully informed and we are fully committed to innovative ways of working and commercial thinking, including an improved digital service to give our customers the chance to self serve.

Ah, the culture of openness and transparency where, unless you own a computer, you will be cut off from the majority of council services. The same culture that keeps so many committees and think tanks secret behind closed doors. The culture that allows the majority party to have talks about privatising our services out to the Local Enterprise Partnership and wants to delegate the decision-making and agreement signing to the CEO and Leader without ANY councillor knowing what exactly either or both may be signing. Hmmm.

Pride in our achievements
“But as we draw near to the end of the year, it is only right that I mention with great pride, a few of the many significant achievements that this council has made during 2014/2015.

Quick, someone, gloss over all our omnishambles – look for something, anything that we can boast about!

“Top of the list of our accomplishments is housing. We have delivered a grand total of 388 homes for local people, which is our highest number of new affordable local homes in one year. It is our continuing aim to provide more good quality, local homes for local people.

Those would be the good quality homes that, in Cranbrook, the town with almost no shops.  Homes which, if you get your way, will now be built on much-needed car parks!  And what about all those affordable homes that developers refused to build and you allowed them to strike out (for example, Seaton Tesco land, where Tesco and the developer were “too poor” to provide any affordable homes).  And let’s see how many Pegasuslife can provide at the Knowle!!!

“Homelessness in East Devon is extremely low thanks to our homeless prevention initiatives and we are working hard through our Empty Homes Plan to help owners of neglected empty properties in East Devon to bring their properties back into residential use, which will relieve pressure on the private and public housing sectors.

Homelessness in East Devon is characterised by two homeless people dying in the street in Sidmouth very recently and food banks in all major towns. And just how many “owners of neglected property” will you be working with and how?

“Finally, it gives me enormous pleasure to say that the finalisation of our Local Plan is now within sight and we are anticipating being able to adopt it early next year. This detailed and robust document will help us deliver the aspirations and housing needs of local people, as well as land for employment. It will also help protect our beautiful countryside from unwanted and inappropriate development.

Ah, finally – the Local Plan. The plan that was  orchestrated for years by ex-Councillor Graham Brown (he of the front page of the Daily Telegraph sting and where originally all meetings were held in secret and with no minutes until Claire Wright forced publication) and the East Devon Business Forum.  Which then had to be started all over again from scratch, was thrown out by the planning inspector once, thrown out again a second time and which the said planning inspector has now decided to complete himself!   The one that left the whole district open to a development free-for-all.  Omnishambles Number One for the past 5-7 years. Best keep this one for last and hope no-one notices.

“Exciting times lie ahead for us and we are looking forward to working with you all to achieve the greater good for East Devon.

You bet exciting times lie ahead, but not perhaps, exciting happy times. More and more development, not a hint of where the money for the accompanying infrastructure will come from, a vastly increased Cranbrook, small villages being forced to take extra development as their built-up boundaries are being dismantled, developers continuing to build high cost homes in high cost areas

“May I now wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.”

Enjoy it while you can – it can only get worse but, don’t worry, I will be at the helm ….. with my trusty cabinet …. and officers …. and the Blackdown Hills will be just fine!

Councillor Paul Diviani

Summary: “Just give me 500 Christmassy words of milksop basic council jargon will you please, officers and then I will leave you alone till this time next year.  And, whatever you do, DO NOT MENTION EXMOUTH SPLASH!

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