Student Euan Trower, 16, lives near Stokeinteignhead and studies in Exeter:
“With all the political parties targeting young potential voters, I, as a 16-year-old college student, am a key target for the next election. One of the key issues right now is housing. There simply aren’t enough houses to go around. All the parties are promising to build more houses and to relax planning laws for councils in rural areas. But does it solve the problem?
Simply concreting over England’s green and pleasant lands – isn’t going to solve a national crisis. The South West is a prominent victim of these failed policies with over development dividing and destroying both rural and urban communities. In his book ‘The Death of Rural England’, Professor Alun Howkins says that, “During the last century, the countryside has changed absolutely fundamentally”. Large housing developments without the necessary infrastructure to support these extra people mean pretty villages and market towns are reduced to an urban sprawl of poorly built suburbs.
The economic arguments for these policies are that it reduces the demand for housing and that it encourages local economic growth. Both of these are false.
The demand for housing, especially in rural areas, is down to the sickening number of second homes which is killing off the local way of life. A survey in 2011 showed that there were 4000 second homes in the South Hams alone. The Influx of people coming for “a slice of country life” is driving up house prices and driving out local people. The same survey showed that in 2010, the house-wage affordability ratio for Devon was 2.52 points above the rest of England, with that gap expected to rise. Farmer’s barns, the old mill, the old bakery, the old shop, the old forge, they’ve all been converted into houses, many of them only lived in for half the year.
As for those who argue this promotes local economic growth, oh no it doesn’t. While there will be a short-term demand for skilled tradesmen, something of which we have very few, the South West is a low skill low wage economy, so where are the jobs for these new home owners to go too?
So with development even proposed for the beautiful market town of Moretonhampstead, perhaps the way to deal with this growing crisis is not to try and rapidly increase the nation’s housing stock but rather to fairly distribute the houses we already have. The government should also look to drastically reform the way we rent property while any new developments should be very carefully assessed to reduce the impact on the local area to an absolute minimum. In essence, rather than building houses, developers must build communities.
And it takes all sorts to make a community, not just the privileged few.”
“The government announced last July that tolls would end on the Severn bridges by end 2018.
What happens to our Local Enterprise Partnership and Greater Exeter Growth Plans if everyone turns right at Bristol?
As a current Guardian article says:
… “The abolition of the tolls on the Severn bridges will create a “once in a lifetime” chance to build an economic region to rival the northern powerhouse and challenge the south-east of England, politicians, business leaders and academics have said.
Making the crossings between the west of England and south Wales free could lead to a “western powerhouse” stretching from Bath and Bristol to Swansea, boosting prosperity and jobs, advocates believe.
A summit at the Celtic Manor resort, on the Welsh side of the border, yesterday discussed how regions on either side of the bridges could benefit from government plans to abolish the tolls by the end of the year……..”
The concept of a “Severnside” region has been around for decades. Welsh devolution is seen as one reason why the concept lost traction but Brexit has led to a reassessment.
Dylan Jones-Evans, the assistant pro-vice chancellor at the University of South Wales, said abolishing the tolls was a once in a lifetime opportunity. “Many businesses on both sides of the bridges felt [the tolls] formed a major psychological and financial barrier. Wales was seen as being separate from the rest of the UK economy.”
But he warned: “The current transport provision for road and rail between south Wales and the south west of England is not fit for purpose. … “
Owl says: Translation of headline – “A few rich businesspeople with vested interests and a few power hungry but rather uninformed councillors with their eye on the future panic because they risk having their fingers extracted from lucrative pies and will make unsustainable promises if that’s what it takes to keep them in”.
And as for that “productivity strategy”:
“Moves to shift more power and cash to the Westcountry took an important step forward this week when key players met civil servants to thrash out the way forward. The Westcountry has been pushing to join former Chancellor George Osborne’s “devolution revolution”, which would take powers away from London and put it into the hands of local people.
The first meeting in Whitehall last week included discussions on transport infrastructure, broadband access, home building and support for business growth.
The bid for devolution is led by the Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership, which includes leaders from business and councils across Somerset and Devon, including Plymouth, Torbay and Exeter.
A delegation has now met representatives from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to discuss devolution proposals.
The group claims that additional decision making and budget powers could have huge benefits for the Westcountry, including higher productivity, better paid jobs, improved transport links and more affordable homes.
Devon and Somerset are lagging behind the rest of the country. By November 2016, 11 regions had already reached devolution agreements.
Heart of the South West submitted its first proposal in February 2016, but has yet to reach a concrete deal.
An earlier stumbling block, the election of a regional mayor, has already been removed by the Government.
The issue had threatened to split the partnership.
But now civil servants have agreed to hold regular meetings on the issue, according to the region’s leaders involved in the bid.
Plymouth Council leader Ian Bowyer said: “Creating a strong economy, which means jobs, stability and strong prospects for our young people as well as families is vital for the future of Plymouth and the region as a whole. We are already working together across so many areas to deliver growth.
“This was a really positive meeting and sets the scene for closer working that will benefit all our residents.”
A total of 23 partnership organisations from across the region, which also includes clinical commissioning groups and national parks, are involved in the plans.
A joint committee for the Heart of the South West economic region is now being set up to move the discussions forward.
Cllr David Fothergill, chair of the Heart of the South West shadow joint committee, said of last week’s meeting: “We explained our vision for the area and how to help it become more prosperous.
“We discussed skills, transport infrastructure, broadband access, ways to provide more homes where they are needed and support for businesses to grow, innovate and export more. We also talked about the specific challenges faced by rural communities.”
The group said its first meeting will be in March, where it will agree a productivity strategy.”
“An application to create a 113-home retirement community at East Devon District Council’s current HQ has been allowed on appeal by the Planning Inspector.
PegasusLife lodged an appeal following the scheme’s refusal in December 2016.
A public inquiry was held over five days in November 2017.
The new development will be classed C2, which means Sidmouth will miss out on thousands of pounds’ worth of contributions towards affordable housing.
Read reactions in Friday’s Sidmouth Herald.”
Might Devon unitisation take place soon AFTER EDDC moves to its new luxury HQ?
“The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government says he expects the number of unitary authorities in England to be higher in five years’ time.
Sajid Javid’s comments came in response to a question from former Cabinet colleague Patrick McLoughlin, who noted that both Scotland and Wales “are totally served by unitary local authorities”.
Sajid Javid 146x219The Secretary of State responded: “I can tell him that 60% of English people are served by unitary authorities, and I expect the number to be higher in five years’ time, given the views of many local people about unitary authorities and our commitment to consider unitarisation whenever requested.”
In November 2017 Javid said he was ‘minded to’ back the Future Dorset plans, which involve the replacement of the nine local authorities in the council with two unitaries.
Under this model, one ‘urban’ unitary would be created through the merger of Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch. The other ‘rural’ unitary would be established from East Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, West Dorset and Weymouth & Portland. The county council would cease to exist.
However, councillors at Christchurch agreed this month to write to the Secretary of State to set out their vision of an alternative to the proposed shake-up. The council also approved an initial budget of £15,000 to take legal advice “and if necessary initiate legal proceedings to protect the interests of Christchurch Borough Council and its residents”.
Though not involving the establishment of unitary authorities, the Secretary of State said in December that he was ‘minded to’ back the merger of Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset District Council, and the merger of Forest Heath District Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council into single district councils.”
Dame Ruth Carnell is also leading Devon’s STP after her appointment os chief of the “Success Regime” on which her consultanct company worked prior to her appointment.
“Two local Kent campaigners claim they had to mount a year-long investigation, involving numerous Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and a meeting with top NHS executives, in order to confirm that a small private consultancy firm had been paid over £6 million of local NHS funds to find cuts and “efficiency savings” in Kent.
Diane Langford and Julie Wassmer say they became concerned when they saw Dame Ruth Carnall, a former NHS executive who heads the private consultancy, Carnall Farrar, had been made Independent Chair of the Programme Board of the local Sustainability & Transformation Plan (STP) – one of 44 regional bodies put in place by NHS England to implement cuts and “savings” within the NHS.(1)
Author and campaigner, Julie Wassmer says “I raised concerns with former Canterbury MP, Julian Brazier, at a public (CHEK) meeting last March, questioning how Dame Ruth could possibly claim ‘independence’ when her own company was set to profit from the contract. At the same time, I was aware that my colleague, Diane Langford, had already been coming up against a wall of obfuscation in trying to discover how much that contract was worth and who was actually making the payments.”
Ms Langford, a writer and former Hansard transcriber says: “I actually submitted my first Freedom of Information request in December 2016, then dozens more to all eight Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in Kent and Medway as well as to Kent County Council (KCC) and NHS England in order to try to establish who was paying Carnall Farrar. As each respondent has up to 20 days to reply, it was an extremely time-consuming process and all the bodies denied having paid the firm though KCC had disclosed that the money came from ‘the NHS.’”
A complaint to the FOI Ombudsman against Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust was triggered when no reply was received within 20 days.
Eventually the campaigners found that millions of NHS money had been paid to Carnall Farrar by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, of which Glenn Douglas was then CEO. Wassmer then obtained a meeting last month, at which the campaigners discussed with Douglas (now – CEO of the Kent and Medway Sustainability and Transformation Partnership) and Michael Ridgwell (its Programme Director) the huge sums that had been paid to Carnall Farrar and why they were not appearing on the Trust’s usual spending records for payments of £25k and over.
“Ironically,’ says Wassmer, “this was on 7th December, just before the local NHS was about to implode with the pressure of Christmas and New Year emergencies. Michael Ridgwell was unable to produce an exact figure of how much had been paid to Carnall Farrar, but suggested the sum of £2.2M. I then explained that with the help of research organisation, Spinwatch,(2) we had actually confirmed that a figure of £6,051,199 had been paid to September 2017 (3) – though only just over half of it had been logged in the Trust’s spending records, with no record of any significant spending on Carnall Farrar before June 2017 – and no trace of the remaining millions. At the meeting Glenn Douglas explained to us that as the STP is not an “organisation” it is not obliged to publish its payments, but Michael Ridgwell then agreed to publish the full expenditure on the Trust’s website and has since done so. These records show that Carnall Farrar has been paid well over half a million pounds a month since September last year, although it’s not known whether this money is on top of the £6m it has already charged the local NHS.“
The campaigners insist it is crucial to challenge the lack of clarity, transparency, and accountability surrounding such huge payments. Even more so as the government now seeks to introduce new bodies – Accountable Care Organisations – that could see billions of pounds of the NHS budget handed to commercial companies.
“This is public money,” says Wassmer, “NHS funds being diverted away from services and into the pockets of private consultancies. We know that over £6 million, and possibly more, has been paid from the local NHS budget to this one consultancy for barely 18 months’ work on the local STP. How much more is going to management consultants across the whole of the UK? It’s almost impossible to hold the system to account and I fear it will only be worse with the impending introduction of so-called Accountable Care Organisations (4). Paying millions to private companies, like Carnall Farrar to find damaging cuts within an underfunded service is not only senseless – it’s immoral.”
Diane Langford agrees: “This lack of transparency conceals not only the sums involved, but the role consultancies like Carnall Farrar play in axing services. At our meeting on 7th December, we mentioned that Dame Ruth Carnall had appeared in a 2011 list compiled by the Sunday Telegraph of the highest paid NHS “fat cats” – earning an annual salary of over £200,000 at that time.(5) Glenn Douglas was on the same list, and while he admitted he was still earning in excess of £200,000 a year, the point is that as an NHS member of staff he can be held duly accountable for his work, in a way that private companies like Carnall Farrar cannot.”
Dr Coral Jones, GP, vice -chair of Doctors in Unite and member of Keep our NHS Public commented: “As the campaigners Diane Langford and Julie Wassmer have uncovered, over £6 million has been paid to a single consultancy company run by a former director of NHS London to tell the Kent and Medway CCGs how to cut services. Downgrading of services at QEQM hospital in Margate, as proposed by Carnall Farrar, will put lives at risk. Patients in Thanet and all those in East Kent living miles away from Ashford will be at risk of death, or avoidable disability, after a review of Kent and Medway urgent stroke services plans to concentrate hospital treatment for strokes in three sites across Kent and Medway. There is no discussion of alternatives apart from the concentration of services in three hospitals, and none on how to avoid the poor outcomes for patients when treatment is delayed due to travel times. The use of management consultancy companies is widespread in the NHS. Their reports, costing many millions of pounds, all follow the same formula of cuts, re-configurations and concentration of services. On Saturday 27th January at 10.30 am there will be a community conference (6) at Queens Rd, Baptist Church, Broadstairs CT10 1NU to oppose downgrading of local NHS services and I urge everyone concerned about the NHS in Kent & Medway to come along.” ENDS