Devon County Council to overspend [be underfunded] by £8.7m

Bit late to lay blame, Phil!

“… The council’s chief executive Phil Norrey said that he despaired at the lack of understanding [of] the treasury and that the cake that they were providing was just too small. …”

How neighbourhood plans died

Concluding paragraph of the article:

“The new Framework introduces a two-tier hierarchy of policies: strategic and non-strategic. Strategic policies may be contained in either a development plan or a spatial development strategy made by combined authorities and mayoral combined authorities. The National Planning Policy Guidance still states that “A neighbourhood plan attains the same legal status as the Local Plan once it has been approved at a referendum.” [15] but such plans are now in fact doomed to occupy a permanent state of permanent relegation in the second tier of this new planning policy hierarchy.”

Cranbrook: please return your anti-social behaviour diary – or start one!

From town council Facebook site:

“Just a request to those residents who have been keeping anti-social behaviour diaries to please return them to the Town Council office in the Younghayes Centre, 169 Younghayes Rd, EX5 7DR as soon as possible (or if preferred, by email, marked confidential, to so we have the information in time for a related meeting.

Thank you. Other residents experiencing problems are welcome to request a diary.”

“‘Lost for words’: Somerset cuts £28m of help for most vulnerable”

Owl says: had the council raised council taxes by the cost of living in each of the years they boasted about freezing it AND making cuts at the same time ALL of the shortfall would have been covered – and more. They would have raised £114m whereas current cuts required immediately are £28 million. And all to pretend to voters that they were being very, very clever when they were being very, very stupid.

East Devon District Council operated with the same “freeze, cut and boast” throughout those years too. Though interestingly, one thing they don’t seem to have cut is staffing levels …..

Tory council latest casualty of drastic austerity measures imposed on local government:

“On Wednesday, the eight-person cabinet of Somerset county council voted through £28m of spending cuts, spread over the next two years. Over the previous six months, speculation had raged over whether Somerset would become the next Conservative-run council to join Northamptonshire in effectively going bankrupt and calling in government commissioners to sort out its mess.

And here was the answer, delivered at not much more than a week’s notice. To avoid a final disastrous plunge into the red, there would be a hacking-down of help for vulnerable families and children with special educational needs, youth services, road-gritting, flood prevention, and much more.

The proceedings took place at Shire Hall, a mock-Gothic Victorian edifice in Taunton, Somerset’s county town. An hour before they started, around 80 people had gathered to protest, chanting a slogan apparently dreamed up by the local branch of the public sector union Unison: “Don’t let the eight decide our fate.” Among the quieter participants in the protest were women who work on the county’s GetSet programme, which helps some of the county’s most vulnerable children and families. Around 70 of them are set to lose their jobs.

For fear of getting in trouble, they insisted on speaking anonymously. “There’ll be no early help,” one of them told me. “Families won’t get any attention now until they’re in crisis.”

“I’m lost for words,” said one of her colleagues. “I don’t know what to say, really. We’ve kind of been expecting this for years, but at the same time, you think, ‘Surely it won’t happen.’” They said they were expecting the finer details of the cuts’ implications to emerge in the coming days.

This is proving to be the year when the drastic austerity imposed on councils over the last eight years reaches a critical point. England’s Labour-run cities are faced with economies that stretch into the future. Back in February, Northamptonshire hit a financial wall, and issued a Section 114 notice, banning expenditure on all services outside its statutory obligations to safeguard vulnerable people. As well as Somerset, councils in Norfolk, Lancashire and East Sussex were soon said to be in danger of going the same way.

Each of these councils has its own story, but there are two common threads: they are Tory-run, and their financial problems are often ramped up by the needs of populations spread over large areas. Somerset, which covers 1,640 square miles, is a case in point and, like many English counties, its outward appearance belies its social realities.

Articles in Sunday magazines might suggest the county is now the preserve of farmers and recently-arrived hipsters. But its three largest towns are Taunton, Yeovil and Bridgwater: post-industrial, hardscrabble places which contain 19 council wards in the 20% of English areas classed as the most deprived, and whose social fabric has already been drastically damaged by austerity.

Inside the council chamber, the debate occasionally flared into anger, intensified by the fact members of the public had been given only 48 hours to read 600 pages of documents before submitting questions.

Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors repeatedly brought up the fact that between 2009 and 2016, Somerset’s ruling Conservatives had imposed a freeze on council tax, when an increase of 1.9% would have brought in an additional £114m. There were mentions of Somerset’s recent record on children’s services and the fact that in 2013, inspectors from Ofsted gave its work the lowest rating of “inadequate”, a verdict it says it has been trying to address since.

There was also talk about what was going on at the highest levels of the administration. In April, the council’s finance director departed after 31 years, and reportedly took a job at a donkey sanctuary; his temporary replacement is said to be costing the council nearly £1,000 a day.

Legally, all councils have to set an annual balanced budget. In this financial year, the meeting was told, the council was facing an overspend of £11.4m. Much of this was rooted in the rising costs of children’s services, traceable in turn to a shortage of social workers, foster carers and adopters. But there were plenty of other factors at work. In the last five years, the biggest block of money Somerset receives from central government, the so-called revenue support grant,has fallen from around £90m to less than £9m. Next year, it will disappear completely. The county’s reserves are now down to a mere £7.8m.

Ten years ago, as George Osborne commenced the era of austerity, the council’s Tory leadership gave the impression that it was only too keen to help. These days, by contrast, most of the Conservatives trying to find a way through the mess have the wearied, put-upon look of people hanging on to an ethos of public service, but involved in something so difficult that it seems almost impossible.

This theme ran through the 20 minutes I spent talking to the council’s Tory leader, David Fothergill. He said the council’s problems had affected his health, but wouldn’t be drawn on any specifics. “This isn’t why I came into politics,” he said. “We all try to make things better, but at times, it seems like we’re making things worse to try to get there.”

Up until 2009, the council was run by the Lib Dems, which also had three of Somerset’s five MPs. Now, all of the county’s parliamentary representatives are Tories, along with 35 of its 55 councillors. As much as anything, then, this is essentially a story about the Conservative party, and the widening gap between national politicians and the local councillors whom they expect to dutifully implement many of the decisions made in Westminster and Whitehall. By way of making these tensions clear, one Somerset MP this week accused the council of being “an object lesson in waste”.

“Three or four weeks ago,” Fothergill said, “I wrote to all of the Somerset MPs, telling them what was coming. Very little has come back. Four or five days ago, I wrote saying, ‘I really need some help – we’re getting to the sticky end of this.’ And I got nothing back: no response.

“I know we’re all busy, but actually, the most important people in all this are people who live in Somerset. And I will stand up for them, and make myself very unpopular, because my job is to look after them.”

Not long after we spoke, an emailed statement from the department for housing, communities and local government arrived: “Our funding settlement gave a real terms increase in resources for local government in 2018-19. Local authorities are responsible for their own funding decisions, but over the next two years, we are providing councils with £90.7 billion to help them meet the needs of their residents. We are giving them the power to retain the growth in business rates income and are working with local government to develop a funding system for the future based on the needs of different areas.”

As Fothergill led six hours of discussion in the council chamber, his voice occasionally cracked with emotion. Early on, he announced that a £240,000 cut in help for young carers, which had prompted no end of outrage, would be deferred and reviewed. But everything else passed, and there was frequent talk of more cuts to come.

In the Shire Hall’s cavernous reception area, I spoke to Leigh Redman, one of Somerset’s three Labour councillors. “The leader of the council needs to stand up and start pointing the finger,” he said. “He should stand up and say to the government: ‘We’re bankrupt. You’ve put us in this position – now get us out of it.’”

Was he talking about setting an illegal budget, and thereby triggering the arrival of government commissioners?

“If needs be,” he said. He then paused. “I’m waxing lyrical,” he told me. He then turned and went back up the stairs to the council chamber. There were three hours and several millions pounds of cuts still to go.”

“Six PCCs [Police and Crime Commissioners] are good, 22 are hopeless”

“Elected police and crime commissioners are described as “bleeding hopeless”, “not that bright”, abusive and politically driven in a report that exposes the crisis at the top of policing.

Retired chief constables claim that they were forced to do “dreadful things” by PCCs looking for votes, while senior officers say that they have been put off going for the top jobs because there is a risk of being “thrown under a bus for political expediency”.

The report on police leadership, commissioned by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), reveals that applications for chief constable vacancies in the 43 forces in England and Wales are at the lowest level on record, while tenure in the post has fallen to an average of less than four years.

The report, seen by The Times, points to a range of factors including the troubled relationship between some chief constables and PCCs, who replaced police authorities when they were introduced in 2012 by Theresa May, when she was home secretary. They have the power to hire and fire chief constables and set budgets.

PCCs’ ability to “seemingly arbitrarily” sack police chiefs is cited as a factor in the lack of applications for the top posts. Senior officers are also reluctant to apply for jobs outside their force area because of a perceived chumminess between incumbent deputies and their PCC. One officer claimed that the system was being “fiddled”. More than half of chief constables appointed in 2015 were the only candidate for the job.

Sara Thornton, chairwoman of the NPCC, ‘said that the report “is a warning to us that we need to deal with these problems”. She added that the majority of PCCs and chief constables worked well together and that both parties wanted to resolve the leadership issues and had the same goal of getting the best people into the top jobs. Chief constables and PCCs will hold a discussion on the issues next month.

‘Six PCCs are good, 22 are hopeless’

The comments by anonymous chief constables were negative enough but it was the assessment from within the ranks of police and crime commissioners that landed a killer blow.

Speaking about their colleagues in 2015, one anonymous PCC told researchers: “You must not assume that being eccentric and having lousy judgment are prerequisites for the job, even though some of my PCC colleagues exhibit these characteristics in spades. There are six or seven really good PCCs… and about 22 who are absolutely bleeding hopeless.”

The damning quote was contained in the report commissioned by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) to highlight concerns about the “vulnerabilities” of the elected PCC system and the absence of checks on their behaviour.

The superintendent who compiled the report — with input from 13 retired chiefs, one incumbent chief, and 70 assistant chief constables and deputy chief constables — said that in most cases chiefs worked effectively with PCCs. However, retired chiefs said it was a matter of luck depending on the PCC they got and that some were “difficult, unhelpful and unprofessional”. One said: “Why would any sane person place their operational independence and financial security at the whim of a politician? I have worked too long to place my personal reputation on the line, to place it at risk of being thrown under a bus for political expediency.” Another claimed that “power and ego” went to the PCC’s head.

The report highlighted an “unprecedented” average period of chief constable tenure of under four years, a higher turnover of female chief constables compared with their male counterparts since the introduction of PCCs, and low numbers of applications for the top job.

The report highlighted other significant problems including heavy handed investigations of chiefs by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Retired chiefs reported feeling beleaguered, under pressure, undervalued and “subject to no leadership from the Home Office”.

The report’s findings will be considered next month at a roundtable of chief constables, PCCs and other interested parties such as the College of Policing, the standards body.

Sara Thornton, the NPCC chairwoman, said that there were clearly retired chief constables who had been “damaged” by their experiences and she wanted to prevent that happening again.

Small changes such as encouraging mediation when a relationship between chief and PCC broke down, and requiring PCCs to put their reasons for suspending a chief into writing, could help to fix the problems. Mark Burns-Williamson, chairman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said that the NPCC report was based on research with a small sample size that had “no formal status”. He said he did not agree with the negative descriptions of PCCs.

Behind the story

Police and crime commissioners were introduced in 2012 to scrutinise chief constables, replacing police authorities.

David Cameron, prime minister at the time, was impressed by the US system of vesting broad police oversight powers in a single elected figure. So it is not surprising that the relationship between chief constables and PCCs can be a testing one.

The leadership report underlines entrenched problems that are unlikely to be resolved without significant changes to the system.

One chief constable said yesterday: “A number of people have left because their positions have been made intolerable.” While PCCs have the power to hire and fire chief constables, and set budgets, they are not supposed to encroach on operational policing.

However, it is widely accepted that some have, and that some chief constables have let them. There is also a perception among chief constables that they can be discarded by PCCs without proper checks and balances.”

“Elected police chiefs [Police and Crime Commissioners] are eccentric, not that bright or bleeding hopless say officers”

Owl says: the trenchant article suggests reform of the PCC role – but oversight by committee (the former arrangement), although it had its flaws, worked better. What the article does not say is that inadequate PCCs fall back on anonymous paid staff (such as their next-in-command highly paid Career CEOs)to do their work for them, then falling happily themselves into a mostly ceremonial role while trousering the substantial salaries.

“The post of police and crime commissioner is six years old and wearing its age poorly. As few as one in ten voters can name their commissioners. An innovation that was supposed to revive local democracy and strengthen police accountability has not achieved either goal. Instead, too often, commissioners have repaid low turnout at the polls with low-calibre performances in office.

Commissioners set the strategic priorities of every police force outside London and are subject to little real oversight. They can hire and fire chief constables without so much as writing down their reasons. This may have more to do with politics and personalities than the public good.

A report commissioned by the National Police Chiefs’ Council now adds to the perception of commissioners as a failing experiment in two ways. It quotes senior sources describing most of the country’s commissioners as variously “eccentric”, “not that bright” and “bleeding hopeless”; and it blames them in part for a serious shortfall in applicants for chief constables’ jobs.

Admittedly the author of this report, a serving police superintendent, may not be wholly impartial. Nor should anyone be surprised to see tensions in the relationship between senior police officers and those elected to supervise their work. The document is significant nonetheless. To perform the role envisaged for them commissioners need the trust of the public and also of police. In many forces they plainly do not have it.

The idea of vesting broad police oversight powers in a single elected figure was inspired by compelling stories from both sides of the Atlantic. Rudy Giuliani, as mayor of New York, promised and delivered zero tolerance on crime. Ray Mallon achieved a similar transformation as elected mayor of Middlesbrough. David Cameron and Theresa May took up the theme in the early years of the coalition, hoping to replace unelected Police Authorities with dynamic public figures.

Disappointment set in early. Turnout for the first elections of commissioners in 2012 was a miserable 15 per cent. Most candidates were white and male. One who was not, Ann Barnes in Kent, undermined the credibility of the scheme with a disastrous TV interview in which she was unable to explain her role. Shaun Wright, in South Yorkshire, clung on to the job even when his failure to act in the Rotherham child sex grooming scandal became clear. Others have misused taxpayers’ money, removed chief constables without sufficient explanation and replaced them without casting their nets wide enough. Where commissioners have proved too easily cowed by senior officers the results are no less damaging. At least one chief constable who should have been censured for egregious misjudgments in an investigation was allowed instead to move smoothly up the career ladder.

One successful commissioner, former Air Chief Marshal Sir Clive Loader, said towards the end of his four-year term that he would not seek re-election because he saw the job as akin to “a last tour of duty”. The remark points to a fundamental problem. Commissioners will never gain public confidence if they are regarded as time-servers at the end of their careers.

The 2013 Stevens report on policing recommended abolishing commissioners, but its proposed replacement was too complex and costly. Local democratic police oversight is as vital as ever. Elected commissioners can provide it, but a new balance of power is needed between the public and police. This can be achieved by giving voters the option of recall elections to remove commissioners who are manifestly failing; and by requiring commissioners to follow a clear written process when exercising their power to fire a chief constable. When that power is misused it should be the commissioner who pays, not the public.”

Source: The Times (pay wall)