Mid Devon’s future housing strategy plans published

The public is being invited to have a say on Mid Devon’s new housing strategy until 2025, which includes a target for 160 new council houses.

[Mid-Devon is currently a “no overall control” council with 20 Conservatives, 11 Lib Dem, 8 Independent and 2 Green councillors]

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

The authority’s cabinet approved the draft strategy for a consultation that will begin later this week and last until the end of the month.

The 40 objectives set out in the document include 160 new council houses of a mix of social and affordable rent. Social rent homes are typically let at around half the local market rate by a registered provider, while affordable rent is up to 80 per cent.

The strategy also details how the council intends to retrofit its existing housing stock to a net zero carbon standard by 2050, help provide serviced plots for custom and self-build housing, provide eight new pitches for the gypsy and traveller communities and minimise rough sleeping to five people or fewer in Mid Devon at any one time.

In the introduction to the 56-page document, Councillor Bob Evans (Conservative, Lower Culm), deputy leader and cabinet member for housing and property services, said: “It is important that we support housing growth to meet a growing population and to support economic growth, but this cannot be achieved solely by developing new homes, but also by focusing on our existing stock and making better use of it for everyone, including our vulnerable households.”

Debating the strategy, Councillor Graeme Barnell (Lib Dem, Newbrooke) said that while its contents had been well-received at the scrutiny committee and homes policy development group, the plan was not ambitious enough.

“The housing crisis in Mid Devon – so-called – is one primarily of affordability. This plan, where it does address the issue of council housing and affordable housing, is very limited in its scope. All national studies suggest we need a hundred [social rented] houses a year, in addition to the current figures, and this comes nowhere near that.”

Cllr Barnell also criticised the proposed two-week public consultation on the plan, but Simon Newcombe, group manager for public health and regulatory services, later confirmed the consultation would stay open until the end of September.

Responding to Cllr Barnell’s comments, Cllr Evans said the plan was something the council “will deliver” and the “possibilities beyond this will be worked upon”.

“What we wanted to set out was something that we could be held accountable to and that we know that we can deliver. This isn’t the extent of where we believe we can go.”

Mr Newcombe added that, following the end of the consultation, final updates will be made to the strategy in early October before it is brought back to the cabinet for approval.

Schools in poorest parts of England ‘hammered’ by biggest cuts

School spending per pupil in England will remain lower than in 2010 following a decade of education budget cuts, new research has revealed.

www.independent.co.uk

Boris Johnson’s government has committed extra £7.1bn funding for schools in England for 2022-2023 – but it will not reverse a cut in real-term spending per pupil over the past decade, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS).

Total school spending per pupil in England was just over £6,500 in the latest complete year of data in 2019-20, some 9 per cent lower in real terms than its high-point of £7,200 in 2009-10, meaning spending will still be 1 per cent lower than a decade ago after accounting for inflation.

The think tank also said disadvantaged pupils in the poorest parts of England have suffered from the biggest cuts over the decade of austerity, and its research shows they are now receiving the smallest increase in extra spending.

Between 2017–18 and 2022–23, funding allocated for the most privileged schools will increase by 8 to 9 per cent in real terms, compared with only 5 per cent for the most deprived schools.

Labour said Conservative cuts have “hammered” school budgets over the last decade and accused the government of “stripping away” children’s opportunities.

The opposition urged ministers to invest more in post-Covid catch-up funding, as House of Commons library data showed the UK has outstripped most European countries in the length of time schools were closed for during the pandemic.

Luke Sibieta, research fellow at IFS, said the “big squeeze” in school spending per pupil in England was the largest in at least 40 years.

“This will make it that much harder for schools to address the major challenge of helping pupils catch up on lost learning alongside everything else they are required to do,” he said.

The IFS expert added: “Schools serving disadvantaged communities face the biggest challenges. They faced the biggest cuts up to 2019 and are now receiving the smallest rises. This pattern runs counter to the government’s aim of levelling up poorer parts of the country.”

Josh Hillman, director of education at the Nuffield Foundation, the charitable trust which commissioned the research, added: “It is crucial that schools in deprived areas receive appropriate and well-directed funding so that they can help to close the disadvantage gap and ensure all children can reach their potential.”

Kate Green, the shadow education secretary, said the IFS report showed how “Conservative cuts have hammered school budgets over the last decade”.

The Labour frontbencher added: “Children’s opportunities have been stripped away as class sizes have soared to record levels and enriching extracurricular activities have been cut back.”

Since the start of last year children in the UK have been out of class on nearly half (44 per cent) of days – amounting to longer school closures than any European country except Italy.

The shadow education secretary said the long stretches pupils spent out of school was partly the fault of failures by education secretary Gavin Williamson.

“The Conservatives’ failure to respond to the Covid crisis has kept kids out of class for far longer than their European counterparts,” said Ms Green – calling on the government to make sure proper ventilation is in place so Covid outbreaks can be minimised this autumn.

“As the new school year starts, Gavin Williamson is again burying his head in the sand, ignoring the advice of scientific experts and risking creating a climate of chaos for schools if Covid rates rise,” she added.

A Department for Education (DfE) spokesperson said the £7.1bn increase in funding for schools, compared to 2019-20 funding levels was “the biggest uplift to school funding in a decade”.

The DfE added: “Next year, funding is increasing by 3.2 per cent overall, and by 2.8 per cent per pupil, compared to 2021-22. The National Funding Formula continues to distribute this fairly, based on the needs of schools and their pupil cohorts.”

Fighting for the survival of the NHS as we know it

Letters to the Guardian. www.theguardian.com 

Thank you, Rachel Clarke, for highlighting the disturbing emerging reality of the so-called New Hospital Programme (For a doctor, the Tories’ empty promises on hospitals are soul-destroying, 23 August). Just look at West Hertfordshire NHS trust, one of eight in the first wave of NHP projects. When Boris Johnson visited Watford hospital in October 2019, he claimed the area would soon have “world-class facilities”. But it is not turning out like that.

The trust’s preferred option is for a new hospital facility to be housed in three tower blocks in a heavily congested and inaccessible spot, next to the current Watford hospital. Other local hospitals would get minimal investment. The trust’s choice has zero chance of being approved by the government. It will cost more than £900m, well over any budget – a unicorn hospital.

Several surveys have shown that many local people and experts would prefer what we advocate – investment in a really new hospital on a clear site, accessible for everyone. Given the financial constraints, the most likely outcome of the NHP for West Hertfordshire is a fudged and lengthy refurbishment of the existing cramped, unpopular and decrepit Watford buildings.

Let’s hope this sorry story of mismanagement isn’t a foretaste of what is to come for the whole of the programme.

Philip Aylett

Coordinator, New Hospital Campaign, Hemel Hempstead

Dr Rachel Clarke asks why Sajid Javid lies. The question can be answered with an example of the three-word slogans Dr Clarke references in her column: “He’s a Tory.” Nothing more is needed.

Steven Julians

Romford, London

Your editorial (29 August) catalogues the unforgivable treatment of NHS staff. But in your analysis and the suggested remedy, you miss what is the key factor in the difficulties facing the NHS: its decline is deliberate government policy. For a decade (following a pattern set by earlier Tory and Labour governments) the service has been managed on the basis of plans prepared by management consultants. These have reached their endgame with the health and care bill, which will return to the Commons in the autumn.

This bill will make lawful what has been happening largely without public debate or even awareness. Next April the NHS will be abolished. It will be replaced by more than 40 local variants whose boards will eventually be controlled by giant corporations – many from the US health insurance sector, some already with contracts in the service.

If this is allowed to continue, it will put an end to the clapping and the rainbow posters as more and more people are forced to go private – which has always been the Tory ambition.

Kevin Donovan

Birkenhead, Merseyside

Re the TUC’s call for more public holidays (Report, 30 August), may I suggest 5 July, the date of the creation of the NHS, as a suitable thank you to those who got us through the pandemic? A petition that I recently launched on the parliamentary website to achieve exactly that aim – the creation of an NHS Day – has the added benefit of proposing a gratitude bonus for all NHS staff: petition.parliament.uk/petitions/590154

Gal Travis

Norwich