Council rejects bid to take money from Climate Change action to fund increases in Economic Development team

A bid to take money from a fund allocated to a Climate Change Action Plan and to be diverted towards Economic Development has been rejected.


According to this press report a request for two additional posts in the Economic Development area had been put forward by Cllr Mike Allen (Con) to Cabinet last week. This was supported by both Overview and Scrutiny Committees, who as part of draft budget proposals, requested East Devon District Council’s cabinet consider funding these posts from part of the sum allocated to Climate Change.

As you might expect Owl has red lines when it comes to the environment and climate change. In this case the cabinet, in Owl’s opinion, made the right call in rejecting bids to take money from the Climate Change action fund. The article above went on to suggest that the joint meeting of the Scrutiny Committee, chaired by Cllr Alan Dent (Con) and Overview Committee, chaired by Cllr Nick Hookway (Ingham Indy group), tasked with reviewing the budget, had unanimously agreed that a proposal to take money from climate change to fund two new economic development posts should be put to cabinet. It has taken a week for Owl to calm down and try to understand, by listening to recordings of the joint committee debate and reviewing the draft cabinet minutes, why this could be so.

What Owl has found is that the debate at the combined Scrutiny and Overview was somewhat confused. There were eight budget proposals that members thought were unfunded or insuffiently funded and which they thought deserved to be reviewed at cabinet. They were also unhappy that the sizeable Climate Change budget of £323,000 was a ring-fenced allocation with, as yet, no definite spending proposals. Officers pointed out that as and when costed proposal were made these would have to be approved at cabinet and council. Just how these two concerns ended up as a single proposal to cut the Climate Change budget by £100K to fund two economic development posts rather than any of the other underfunded proposals is unclear. In the past EDDC, has equated economic development by sacrificing greenfield sites to build, build, build, the very antithesis of reversing climate change, so this trade-off looks particularly inappropriate.

Where this is spelled out in the audio recording of the joint committee and draft cabinet minutes is a mystery.

Owl shares, however, the concern that the Climate Change budget for the year doesn’t appear to have definite proposals yet. Owl’s message to officers and the portfolio holder for the environment is this: setting a climate change budget is necessary but not sufficient to deliver progress. You have the strategy for 2020 to 2025:

Click to access EDDC%20Climate%20Change%20Strategy.pdf

This says: we will draw up 5 year Action Plans to address these key priorities, and progress towards them will be measured annually. We are already into the second month of 2020. Where is the plan?

Full devonlive article reads:

A bid to take money from a fund allocated to a Climate Change Action Plan and to be diverted towards Economic Development has been rejected.

A request for two additional posts in the Economic Development area had been put forward by Cllr Mike Allen, and was supported by both Overview and Scrutiny Committees, who as part of draft budget proposals, requested East Devon District Council’s cabinet consider funding these posts from part of the sum allocated to Climate Change.

But Wednesday night’s cabinet meeting saw that recommendation rejected, with Cllr Geoff Jung, portfolio holder for the environment, saying: “I can hear Extinction Rebellion banging on our doors now.”

Making his proposal, Cllr Allen said there was a need for a senior commercial officer in East Devon to focus on working with businesses to broker the growth of small business units in the area and to make sure there is someone with commercial property experience who can go out and make sure there is inward investment which encourages ways in which business can grow.

He said; “We have lots of small businesses and have people who have been landlocked in terms of available space. They want to expand but simply can’t. The reason is they don’t know the best way to do it and there is no mechanism for us to help them as our resources are overstretched.”

But Cllr Ian Thomas, portfolio holder for finance, said he was concerned about the proposal that linked two different aspects of the budget.

He said: “We declared a climate emergency and wanted to put it at the core of everything that we do. I’m not comfortable that this proposal comes from the climate change budget, and am concerned that this is not supported by the officer teams or the SMT. In the absence of a coordinated proposal,

“I feel we have a mismatch, and I think we should refer it back to the service department for a review. If the service lead supports these additional staff, then we do have funds in the budget that could be used for this purpose, but it should not be linked to the reduction in the climate change budget.”

Cllr Jung added: “I cannot approve reducing in the climate change budget. It should be the wrong direction for the council. We should be serious about the climate change action plan or not, and do you want to expand a department to promote economic growth and take it from the budget for climate change? I can hear Extinction Rebellion banging on our doors now.”

Cllr Kevin Blakey, portfolio holder for the economy, added: “As much as I want to see economic growth in the district and it may be that some additional staffing is needed in the future, I don’t think now is the time. Funding it should be part of a long term commercial plan and it should not be coming from the budget from climate change action plan.”

The cabinet recommended their draft budget to full council for approval, without the proposal for £100,000 for two additional posts in the Economic Development service and reducing the sum allocated to the Climate Change Action Plan from £323,000 to £223,000.

The draft budget also includes a Council Tax increase of £5 a year, giving a Band D council tax of £146.78 a year for 2020/21.

The cabinet also recommended that full council adopts the Climate Change Strategy 2020 – 2025, which incorporates the Climate Change Action Plan

John Golding, Strategic Lead – Housing, Health & Environment, said that an initial assessment has been made on the cost implications associated with the Climate Change Action Plan has been made to meet the council’s clear ambition of being carbon neutral by 2040 at the very latest.

He told the cabinet that he would be bringing papers with a number of specific actions to be taken ‘imminently’, around the electrification of their vehicle fleet, sourcing green energy, and investment in the council housing stock to heat them via air source heat pumps.

The council has budgeted for £10,000 to be spent on each of its 4,200 council homes, but Cllr Thomas said that figure might not be enough and that if a £25,000 investment was needed, it would costs more than £100m, ‘a sum larger that we borrowed to buy the whole housing stock in the first place’.

He added: “This shows that we are not even in the right millennium in terms of our funding and if are to meet the objectives and aspiration, we will need central government support as we cannot do it under our budgets.”

Cllr Jung added: “It will cost a lot of money, but we have to get started now and get on top of climate change.”

Concerned members of the community try to save Shandford Care Home, Budleigh.

Should ‘all possible steps’ be taken to save the Budleigh Salterton care home set to close next month?

Families of residents at Abbeyfield Shandford and concerned members of the Budleigh community are set to ask whether there is support for creating a community interest company to run the home.

A public drop-in event has been organised to discuss the idea on Friday (February 14) at Budleigh Salterton Football Club between 4pm and 6.30pm.

The Abbeyfield Society last month confirmed its decision to close the home on March 1 due to the spiralling cost of maintaining the building and difficulty attracting new staff.

A panel of local people had been put together to investigate transferring the home to trustee management but they decided ‘reluctantly’ it was not viable.

Following a meeting at the home called by East Devon MP Simon Jupp, those campaigning for the home to stay open say there is a ‘clear consensus’ that Shandford should be saved.

Mr Jupp said: “At the end of last week I met with the relatives of residents at Abbeyfield Shandford to hear their concerns and discuss next steps.

“I will be meeting with management from Abbeyfield later this week to raise questions on behalf of the residents and their relatives.

“I am still concerned about the lack of clear communication from the charity and questions remain over the amount of money left by former residents.

“I will be updating family members next week and hope to get the answers they need.

“Relatives of residents have said to me that they would like more time to consider other options for its future before residents are forced to move elsewhere.”

Owl will be trying to follow future developments in this story closely. First out of concern for the vulnerable and elderly residents and their families facing a traumatic move to who knows where. Second because East Devon has no recent experience of a constituency MP taking any active interest in the problems of his constituents. New MP, Simon Jupp, has decided to become involved and this will be the first test of his resolve. Owl can only hope that this is more than just a PR exercise.

Honiton Town council spends £121,000 on legal costs over 5 years

Owl says Ouch! This demonstrates the value to transparency of well drafted FOIs

Over the last five years Honiton Town Council has spent more than £120,000 on legal costs, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

Since 2015 Honiton Town Council has spent £121,817 on legal costs.

To put the figure into perspective, during the same period Exmouth and Sidmouth Town Councils spent a combined figure of £7,984, a difference of £113,833.

Honiton Nub News contacted all of Honiton’s town councillors for a response to the newly revealed figures.

Councillor Ray Hanratty says he was surprised by the amount of money spent on legal costs, he said: “I have been astonished and hugely dismayed by the level of expenditure on legal fees by HTC. This money could have been utilised to better effect within the community of Honiton.

“The entrenched position adopted by certain members of the council has prevented sensible negotiations from taking place in order to reach an agreed compromise”

The leader of Honiton Town Council, Mayor John Zarczynski, had this to say in response to the figures: “The Town Council as custodians of public money has a duty to take all steps necessary to recover tax payers’ money where there is evidence supported by legal advice that money is due to the council and Honiton tax payers.

“Unfortunately Honiton Town Council was subject to a Judicial Review when a new council was elected in 2015, this imposed a sanction on a serving councillor that were ruled unlawful by the courts.

“I must point out the councillor subject to unlawful sanctions paid all his own legal fees inclusive of court cost out of his own personal finances.

“The Town Council has also unfortunately been forced into legal disputes, not of council’s making, despite the council making all efforts possible to resolve matters without the need for all concerned incurring legal costs.

“I am not at liberty to comment on the council’s legal dispute with Bailey Partnership, as I am on the council’s appointed management team, to manage the build of the Beehive. This is currently an unresolved contractual legal matter as such it would be inappropriate for me to comment.

“Regarding HTC’s dispute with Honiton Community Complex, the private Company with Charitable Status who lease the Beehive. Following talks with directors of HCC full council has resolved the council’s willingness to support the continued success of the Beehive.

“The Council believes it has made a very generous offer in resolving outstanding financial commitment to HCC with council now currently awaiting written confirmation from HCC that council proposals, as agreed, during a meeting with directors have been accepted by HCC.”

Jason Hannay became a Honiton town councillor last year, he said: “Unfortunately I was only told about this once being co-opted onto the council. The figures have always been out there for people to see, just not as clear as how you are putting it.

“I am sure some members of the current council feel that this has been money well spent and that is the council’s duty to the community, something that needs to be fulfilled and sorted. There are many contributing factors to why the costs have escalated I am sure.

“Personally I feel that money could have been spent better and that there have been a lot of community projects that this money could have contributed towards, but like anything there are two sides to every story.

“There are always going to be misunderstandings, heated debate and opposite views with any committee/council on different things, that’s a part of being an individual. But the council members are some fantastic people with love for Honiton and I look forward to working towards brilliant ideas to give our community value for money.”

According to the figures released by the town council since 2018 £44,525 has been spent on the dispute with the Bailey Partnership regarding the management of the Beehive’s build.
The figures also show that the council has spent £3,860 on a dispute with the Honiton Community Complex regarding its financial relationship with the council. However, that figure is not the total amount spent by HTC on the Honiton Community Complex dispute.

Agenda Item 71 in the Beehive Dispute Report presented to HTC on Monday, October 14, states: “HTC has been forced into the position of having to spend over £15,000 in legal fees so far and one can only presume that HCC have spent a similar amount.”

Nub News contacted the Tax Payers Alliance, a campaign group lobbying for lower taxes, government transparency and an end to wasteful spending in local government, for its take on the figures.
Harry Fone, grassroots campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “These findings will be of great concern to many taxpayers.

“With the tax burden at a 50-year high, many households are struggling to pay their bills and don’t want to see their hard-earned taxes spent inefficiently. The council must ensure it is using every penny to provide the best services for its residents.”