Devon NHS hospital all on black alert – a comment

Save our Hospital Services Facebook page comment:

“Ann Wardman:

I have a friend who was just discharged from NDDH [North Devon District Hospital] where it was code black all the time she was there. Patients waiting for further treatment , some life saving, in Exeter and Plymouth stuck in limbo as both these hospitals are also in the black. Patients still coming in the front door increasing the pressure.

Then there are also patients who are finished with their treatment but not well enough to go home that would have gone to community hospitals for further rehab prior to discharge Home. They are also stuck in limbo until fit enough to go.

There are also terminally ill patients not able to go home but who in times past would have got NHS care and be able to be nearer to friends and family in a community inpatient bed.

How stupid and short sighted to cut community inpatient beds!

Who makes these stupid decisions?

With these many cuts to our NHS – beds , services and staff – this government has caused this crisis and yes as long as they can make a personal profit they don’t actually care whether the plebs get the treatment they need, have paid for and deserve ! You are showing your true colours Phil [Philip Milton – a local controversial Conservative troll on the site] and most are disgusted at your uncaring stance.”

Statistics, damned statistics and lying (Tory MP) statistics!

“The Government has been forced into an embarrassing u-turn after the statistics watchdog slammed the education secretary for wrongly claiming school funding is going up.

Damian Hinds made an “error” when he claimed in parliament that schools would get a real-terms increase in per-pupil funding, the Department for Education has admitted, following an investigation by the statistics watchdog.

The education chief was reported to the statistics watchdog by Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary after he claimed on January 29 that “real-terms funding per pupil is increasing across the system”.

Ms Rayner said today that Mr Hinds’s misleading comments were particularly troubling “given that he stressed the importance of honesty in our public debate” yesterday.

Although per-pupil funding will increase in cash terms in the next two years, it will not take into account inflation and cost pressures, and does not therefore represent a “real-terms” rise.

The head of the UKSA Sir David Norgrove, confirmed that the DfE admitted that Hinds’ claim was made “in error”, and that a correction had been recorded on parliament’s website.

Norgrove also warned claims made by Hinds about the impact of the new national funding formula were “perhaps too strong”.

On January 29, the education secretary said “each school will see at least a small cash increase”.

Funding for schools will increase in cash terms will increase in 2018-19 and 2019-20 but it will be up to local authorities how funding is allocated.

“The secretary of state’s suggestion that ‘each school will see at least a small cash increase’ was perhaps too strong. ‘On average will’ or ‘could’ would have been more precise,” said Norgrove. …

Last July, in response to growing protests over school cuts, Theresa May handed the Department for Education an extra £1.3bn, to be spent from next month.

However, even that cash will be taken from elsewhere in the department’s budget, such as spending on free schools, rather than boost overall education spending.”

Greater London sucks up £1 billion of Help to Buy cash

“A new breed of “five per centers” is taking over the new homes market in parts of London, according to a study published today.

Using the Government’s subsidised Help to Buy London scheme and a five per cent deposit to get on to the housing ladder, these buyers are now responsible for more than half of all sales of new homes in a “halo” of postcodes around the capital.

These hotspots are led by West Wickham, near Croydon. Some 85 per cent of the new homes sold there over the last two years were to buyers bolstered by a 40 per cent government equity loan.

The average price of a new home in the BR4 postcode stands at just under £421,000, up 14 per cent in the past two years.

Other Help to Buy hotspots identified in the research by Hamptons International include Becontree in Barking & Dagenham, where Help to Buy London has been used in 79 per cent of all new homes sales and prices have risen 27 per cent, and Rainham in Havering, where 71 per cent of new properties were bought under the scheme and prices have grown by 23 per cent.

The vast majority of the top 10 Help to Buy locations are in the outer suburbs, including Edmonton in north London, Erith in the east, Peckham in south London, and Feltham and Southall in west London. …”

What if parishes controlled most local services?

Owl has been thinking – always dangerous and always upsetting some people! This time it is about unitary councils and how they might work for the “little people” (or even little owls).

It seems that almost everyone now agrees they will save money, by removing a tier of government. But, when and if they do, how do we safeguard ourselves from being hijacked by the likes of Local Development Partnerships, big business and greedy speculators (some of whom, unfortunately, are likely to be unitary councillors and some who could be all three!).

It seems the absolute key is the devolving of as much decision-making power as is practical to parish level.

Local power brokers (we know who they are!) will inevitably resist this as much as possible. Cornwall’s unitary system is generally accepted to have been something of a success, but the big criticism is the centralisation of decision-making, and lack of democracy.

If we devolve power to parish level, surely this should in lude planning – as the more local it is, the more likely it is to work. It is, of course, a myth that this will lead to nimbyism. Most communities are happy to accept new building – they just don’t want nasty little boxes in the wrong place at inflated prices.

It is obvious that we need to reduce the tiers of government. Look what we have locally: parish council, EDDC, Greater Exeter, the GESP area (which is not the same as it includes Mid Devon), County Council, the LEP (together with its new proto-authority/the Joint Committee), England, the UK, the EU. That makes nine levels of bureaucrats all reinventing the same wheels (and charging for it!).

We are leaving the EU (probably), and it seems to Owl we could quite happily exit EDDC, Greater Exeter, GESP, and the LEP without any loss – which would leave us with four. Parish, County, England, UK. Plenty enough. And imagine the savings!

We could devolve as much as possible to parish level, provided those parishes were of a certain minimum size, say 10,000 population. Parishes could cooperate with neighbouring parishes in the provision of some services such as environmental health. Most such as street cleaning, highway maintenance of everything except A roads, and non-strategic planning could be left to the parish.

But it would mean powerful (and often rapaciously greedy) people being forced to lose that power for the greater good.

Aaahh, well it was good to dream!

Northern Ireland civil service did not take minutes of meetings to avoid Freedom of Information requests!

And Arlene Foster (now DUP Leader x propping up the Tories) now conveniently can’t remember what she said about a shady project …

“The head of Northern Ireland’s civil service has admitted meetings were not minuted in order to frustrate Freedom of Information requests.

David Sterling was giving evidence to an inquiry into a botched green energy scheme on Tuesday.

In 2009 he was permanent secretary of the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment, which implemented the renewable Heat Incentive. It offered financial incentives if firms switched to renewables. But critical flaws meant its claimants could earn substantial returns, far greater than intended.

The issue of minutes was raised in respect to a meeting between senior Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment official Fiona Hepper and then-minister Arlene Foster, about whether to proceed with RHI in the absence of cost controls introduced in Great Britain.

Ms Hepper has told the inquiry she clearly flagged a warning from Ofgem about the risk of going ahead and introducing the controls later. Mrs Foster has said she has “no recollection” of the conversation.

Mr Sterling said the practice of taking minutes had “lapsed” after devolution when engagement between civil servants and local ministers became much more regular. But he said it was also an attempt to frustrate Freedom of Information requests.

Mr Sterling said ministers liked to have a “safe space where they could think the unthinkable and not necessarily have it all recorded”. He said the DUP and Sinn Féin were sensitive to criticism and in that context, senior civil servants had “got into the habit” of not recording all meetings. He said this was done on the basis that it was sometimes “safer” not to have a record which might be released under Freedom of Information.

But he agreed with the inquiry panel that when it came to ministerial decisions on matters of public money it should be recorded.

Mr Sterling also said he only got involved in projects day-to-day if three potential trigger points were reached.
These included a request from staff or his minister to take a closer interest, or if he considered it necessary himself.
He said none of those triggers had been reached in respect of the RHI scheme.

Inquiry counsel David Scoffield QC said the public might be surprised to learn that a complex scheme that involved a large amount of public money was one in which the permanent secretary of the department seemed to have had “limited involvement” and this was not considered unusual.

Mr Sterling said he could understand why the public or commentators “might think it strange”. …”

District councils say they are being starved of most government funding

“The fair funding review will fail unless any reforms come with more money for local government, an umbrella-group has warned.

The Local Government Association said funding cuts had forced councils to divert ever-dwindling resources from other services to prop up adult social care and children’s services.

“Ultimately, the review will not be successful and lead to a sustainable outcome if it is not introduced alongside additional resources,” the LGA wrote in their response to the fair funding consultation, which ended on Monday.

“We estimate that councils face a funding gap of over £5bn by the end of the decade, on top of a £1.3bn pressure to stabilise the adult social care provider market.”

It called for 100% retention of business rates to try to plug the gap. The government confirmed in the draft local government settlement in December last year it is reducing the amount of grant it gives to councils and will allow them to keep 75% of business rates by 2020-21.

But the LGA said business rates retention and the calculation methodology for the four-year settlement had introduced “further layers of opacity” to a system already complicated by the use of 15 formulae and 120 indicators.

“It is positive that the government is attempting to reduce the number of cost drivers and formulae used in the relative needs assessment,” the LGA said. “It is important that complexity is only added where it is unavoidable and where it has a material positive impact on fairness.

“However, the right number of formulae and cost drivers must ultimately be driven by evidence or the outcome will not be seen as ‘fair’.”

The County Councils Network said any new formula arising from the review “must be capable of addressing spikes in demand for social care services”.

Its finance spokesperson Nick Rushton, leader of Leicestershire County Council, said: “This is a once in a generation opportunity to reform the system for the better.

“If we focus on the evidence and avoid introducing unnecessary complexity we may actually make something that stands the test of time. If not we will be back here sooner than we think.”

The District Councils Network said most districts would stop receiving revenue support grant by 2019-20 and were “continuing to see reductions in their core spending power for the whole period, compared to other councils who are all seeing an increase”. …”

“Austerity will have cast an extra 1.5m children into poverty by 2021”

“An extra 1.5 million children will have been pitched into poverty by 2021 as a consequence of the government’s austerity programme, according to a study of the impact of tax and benefit policy by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The EHRC study forecasts dramatic increases in poverty rates among children in lone parent and minority ethnic households, families with disabled children and households with three or more children.

There are clear winners and losers from austerity tax and benefits changes since 2010, the study says. The regressive nature of the policies means that low-income families have been hit hardest: the poorest fifth will lose 10% of income by 2021, while the wealthiest fifth will see little or no change. …”

Rural extra-fast broadband grants exclude East Devon

“Thirteen areas win funding for broadband

Thirteen areas have been awarded a share of £95 million to help with the rollout of ultrafast broadband – which delivers internet speeds of up to 1GB per second – which is currently only available to three per cent of the population. The successful bidders include Manchester, London, Blackpool, Cambridgeshire, Coventry, Mid Sussex, North Yorkshire, Portsmouth and Wolverhampton.”
Source: i p10

and full list:

“Councils forced to sell off parks, buildings and art to fund basic services”

Of course, some councils (naming no names) positively relish selling off the family silver to fund such things as posh new HQ … and note the bit about “transforming services” … a phrase our council adores!

“On Friday, the government-appointed inspector sent in to examine Northamptonshire county council’s books after it went effectively bankrupt is due to publish his report on what went wrong.

While he may identify some failings that can be laid at the council’s door alone, in reality Northamptonshire merely had the dubious honour of last month becoming the first local authority since 1998 to be unable to balance its books. According to last week’s report by the government’s spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, there are around 15 councils that could follow suit in the next three years. The most likely contenders seem to be the Tory-run Surrey, Somerset, Lancashire and Norfolk county councils.

The NAO’s analysis highlights the financial predicament facing councils across England. Government funding has fallen by nearly 50% since 2010. Combined with increased demand for adult and children’s social care and homelessness services, as well as paying higher national insurance contributions for staff, implementing the “national living wage” and the apprenticeship levy, growing numbers of unitary and county councils are relying on their reserves to balance their budgets, the watchdog found.

If current rates of spending continue, the NAO calculates that 10% of social care authorities will have exhausted their reserves within the next three years, while more than 20% will have depleted them within four to five years. A recent survey by the Local Government Information Unit thinktank (LGIU) found that 80% of councils were concerned about their finances. Having already slashed spending on management, administration and non-statutory services, as well as raising council tax, local authorities are desperately trying to find sources of revenue. Most plan to increase or introduce charges for services such as parking, garden waste disposal, burials, planning, home care and meals on wheels. With no financial lifeline from the chancellor, Philip Hammond, in his spring statement on Tuesday, many are also having to sell off their assets to raise cash.

Although councils have long been able to sell school playing fields, swimming pools and leisure centres, they were previously barred from using money from building or land sales to fund frontline services. But since 2016, the government has allowed them to invest the proceeds of assets sold by April 2019 in “transforming” frontline services. This has given councils a greater incentive to flog assets. According to the NAO, in the year to April 2017, £118.5m of such capital receipts were used in this way.

Northamptonshire’s proposed sell-off of its new £53m HQ has been widely reported. But numerous other councils are hoping to sell their historic town halls, from Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire, to Southall in west London and Shotley Bridge in County Durham. Until last month Broxtowe borough council in Nottingham had also planned to sell Beeston town hall to developers, but in the face of fierce local opposition it is now inviting bids from those interested in making alternative use of the building.

“It’s a historic building which has been the civic centre for Beeston since 1936 and represents a lot for the people,” says Matt Turpin, a project and communications manager at Nottingham Unesco City of Literature and the co-founder of a blog about Beeston. “The locals are hugely against it. The council ran a consultation last year and 94% said they were against demolition.” A spokeswoman for the council says shortlisted proposals will be asked to submit business plans before a full council meeting makes a final decision.

With buoyant land values, it is hardly surprising that council-owned parks are vulnerable. Knowsley council in Merseyside is planning to sell 17 parks to developers for an estimated £40m. This will be used to create a charitable trust that will fund all future maintenance and upkeep of its remaining parks. The council will no longer fund parks and green spaces after 2019. After its 2018 budget was approved last week, the plans will now go before the scrutiny committee before a final decision later this year.

Knowsley is far from alone. More than half of cash-strapped councils in the north-west of England are considering selling their parks or finding other organisations to maintain them.

A 2018 parks survey being published on Thursday by the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) reveals that 85% of cash-strapped councils expect to cut parks and green spaces funding. Paul O’Brien, APSE’s chief executive, says this is a false economy. “While divesting parks may seem like a quick solution to financial pressures, in the long term we lose a valuable community asset that can generate a real return for local places and local people, he says.

“If we want to create healthy, active communities, develop attractive public realms to bring in new businesses and jobs, and safeguard the environment, then parks are the answer not the problem.”