New cultural strategy launched for East Devon

The new strategy aims to strengthen, promote and grow arts and culture in East Devon, offering high quality creative opportunities, accessible to people of all ages, in all communities.

Dan Wilkins www.exmouthjournal.co.uk

Over the last four months, people, places, organisations and activities have been mapped revealing what is already happening across East Devon and how it is currently funded.

The public were consulted by East Devon District Council (EDDC) widely, through interviews, workshops and a public survey which received nearly 500 responses.

Around 98 per cent of survey respondents thought it was important that East Devon had a strong cultural offer and 61 per cent confirmed that a lack of local provision was a big barrier to taking part in culture in East Devon.

There are eight core themes to the strategy. Key themes include strengthening and supporting community-led culture organisations to enhance the quality of life and wellbeing in East Devon’s towns and villages, protecting and enhancing the environment, growing cultural tourism alongside the new Tourism Strategy, as well as supporting new places of culture to ensure East Devon residents, especially children and young people, can experience high quality culture in their local areas.

Cllr Nick Hookway, portfolio holder for culture and tourism, said: “The Culture Strategy has identified the extraordinary range of cultural activities that take place across East Devon.

“Such activities not only help to define our district, they also help it to cope with the challenges of living in the 21st Century.  

“I’m very grateful to everyone who has helped to inform and shape this strategy.

“I am delighted that we have an ambitious and practical framework for culture and look forward to working with many local residents and organisations to shape an exciting, creative future for East Devon.”

The Council’s priority is now to start implementing the strategy by putting in place partnerships and resources to achieve these cultural ambitions.

This includes the appointment of a Cultural Producer, who will be a linchpin for coordination, communications, advocacy and fundraising .

They will also lead the ACED (Arts and Culture East Devon) network which will be a vital engine for driving the strategy and all the opportunities it can bring.

Read the full East Devon Cultural Strategy. It is also available to view at eastdevon.gov.uk/arts-and-culture.

‘Funding black hole’: councils grapple with ‘catastrophic’ debt for SEN children

Local authorities in England are grappling with a £2.4bn “funding black hole” for special educational needs, according to new analysis, with councils warning the impact on young people could be “catastrophic”.

Rachel Hall www.theguardian.com 

Rising demand has resulted in councils’ SEN deficits growing six-fold since 2018, according to analysis by the County Councils Network (CCN) and the Society of County Treasurers. A third more children have become eligible for extra funding support over the past three years and the number now stands at 473,000 children.

The CCN is warning that the government’s planned SEN reforms later this year – which will try to reduce the “postcode lottery” in services and make the system less adversarial – will not be enough to plug the deficit that could rise to £3.6bn without action.

Keith Glazier, a councillor and spokesperson for children’s services at CCN, said many council leaders viewed the debts as “unmanageable”.

Glazier said: “Over the last five years, councils have not shirked from taking hard decisions on SEN support in order to try to make services financially sustainable, but we are swimming against the tide. Rising demand each year has meant our deficits have increased six-fold since 2018.”

The CCN is calling for the government to write off the deficit to avoid councils being forced to make “catastrophic financial decisions” or face possible insolvency once the government lifts its current temporary ringfencing of SEN deficits, potentially in a year’s time. This would give local authorities time for the reforms to be implemented, enabling them to start on “a blank slate”, Glazier added.

The reason for the deficit is that more children became eligible for education, health and care plans after legislative changes in 2014, at the same time as support for SEN pupils in mainstream schools has fallen and specialist schools have closed, hitting rural councils especially hard, said the CCN.

In its response to the government consultation on planned reforms to the SEN system, the CCN said the proposals could help with the pressures councils are facing due to increased demand, but these would not be “an overnight fix” and would not erase the deficits that have built up over the last five years.

The government’s reforms package includes £1.4bn for councils to pay for new SEN school places and improve existing provision, and £70m for broader reforms aimed at standardising support across the UK. It also includes funding for councils to help decrease their deficits, but CCN said this programme only covers 55 out of 151 councils and should be expanded further.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Councils are responsible for providing the right support for children in their areas but we know there is variation in how the system works, which is why proposals in our special educational needs and disability (Send) and alternative provision green paper will create a fairer, more inclusive system that also drives value for money.

“We are putting unprecedented investment into the high needs budget, meaning it will be worth £9.7bn by 2023-24, as well as creating tens of thousands of new school places for children with Send, or who require alternative provision over the next three years. We are also providing new guidance and research to help councils target their funding effectively so that young people in their area are supported.”

Humphreys: What are the Tories hiding?

The complicity of silence – Owl

Eileen Wragg writes in the Exmouth Journal

During the last year there have been serious concerns arising from the conviction and sentencing of former Exmouth Mayor and EDDC Councillor John Humphreys for sexual assaults on two young boys. Among the concerns was the fact that he was allowed to continue holding his position as an Exmouth Town and East Devon District Councillor, despite having been arrested in 2015, even campaigning in the 2019 General Election, being photographed at Exmouth Community College with one of the parliamentary candidates and others.

Disturbingly, following a question from Devon County Councillor Jess Bailey at a Full County Council meeting recently, it was revealed that the National Society for the Protection of Children (NSPCC) had informed DCC of the investigation in 2014, yet he was allowed to stay in office, continue to stand for election, and unbelievably was nominated to be an EDDC Honorary Alderman in December 2019! A statement has recently been made by DCC admitting that action should have been taken.

I was made aware that Humphreys was being investigated for these crimes about five years ago, but with no evidence, I was unable to disclose that information. If I, as a Member of the opposition at the time at EDDC was aware, it is inconceivable that Members of the Conservative party had not been informed. Last week’s Full Council meeting at EDDC was presented with a Notice of Motion calling on MP Simon Jupp, who had according to a Conservative Councillor, stayed in a property owned by Humphreys for around two months in 2019, to ask for the questions asked to be investigated by the Conservative party and to give reassurance to the Council. Incredibly, the Conservative Councillors abstained from the requested recorded vote, and from voting on the Notice of Motion. Several, in fact, left the meeting before the vote was taken. It has been reported that a meeting had been called at Blackdown House prior to the meeting, and that they had been whipped into abstaining from the vote.

This raises grave concerns that there was something that they didn’t want known. My view, expressed during Full Council, was that political purposes were put ahead of the safeguarding of children. Devon County Council should be hanging its head in shame along with those who refused to vote last week. Humphreys is serving a twenty one year sentence, one of his victims is serving a life sentence. A recording of last week’s Council meeting can be viewed via EDDC’s website.

[The discussion on Humphreys starts at around 1Hr and 12 mins into the recording of the Full Council Meeting of 20 July which can be found here. Or watch below]

Growing anger over cuts to Ottery bus services

An online petition has been launched on Change.org and the town council is considering taking up the matter with Stagecoach. 

Philippa Davies www.sidmouthherald.co.uk

From Sunday, July 31, a new 44 service will be covering Exeter – Cranbrook – Ottery St Mary – Honiton – Axminster.  There will be a two-hourly service from Axminster and a combination of one to two services in the hour from Honiton.   

There is particular concern that the last bus from Exeter to Ottery will be at 18.40 and there will no longer be a service from Ottery to Honiton at 21.51. 

An online petition has been launched by a local resident who says: “The new timetables will be a nightmare for anyone wishing to go out to Exeter for an evening or for those that need to use the buses to get home from work.” 

Ottery’s mayor, Cllr Vicky Johns, said: “As a Councillor and resident of Ottery I am dismayed that Stagecoach have reduced their service to our town and the outlying villages.  

“We have residents who rely on the public transport to get them to their work places and home again, to get them to their places of education and home again and to generally get them around safely.  

“As a country we have declared a climate emergency and whereas most areas are increasing their public transport ours is decreasing, where does this make sense? I would hope that Stagecoach would look again at their new timetable and take into account what their customers actually require.” 

Ottery Town Council will be discussing the issue at their next meeting on Monday, August 1. 

The MP for East Devon Simon Jupp said he is seeking a meeting with Stagecoach over the cuts. He said: “The reduction of bus services in Ottery St Mary and East Devon comes as a bitter blow. We should be encouraging people back on to public transport, yet have a council who have doubled the price of parking across our district. It’s time for some joined-up thinking and that is why I am sitting down with Stagecoach bosses to express local feedback about where the timetable cuts go too far.”

The Herald reported on the reduced bus service earlier this month, when the county councillor for the Otter Valley, Jess Bailey, raised her concerns. She is calling for Devon County Council to press Stagecoach to reinstate the existing service. 

Stagecoach says the changes are aimed at ‘providing a sustainable bus network now so that we can grow services over the long term’. 

The company says it needs to concentrate resources on the services where demand is greatest, to make sure vital journeys and connections are maintained, and that it will work with national and local government to attract more people to use its bus services. 

Get to know your next Prime Minister

Exclusive: Exeter hosting Tory leadership hustings on Monday

Very exclusive: Only “qualifying” Tory “True Blue Badge Holder” may attend either in person or online!

Exclusive, maybe secret: At the moment, the venue has not been made public.

[However, previous hustings during elections have been staged at Exeter Cathedral.

Other possible venues include the Corn Exchange, Exeter University and Sandy Park’s Conference Centre.]

Alternatively, East Devon Watch readers may prefer to watch the “Real Deal” here.