East Devon District Council response to Housing Ombudsman report
An East Devon District Council (EDDC) spokesperson said:
“The total number of Housing Ombudsman complaints for the period 2021/22 was five and in four of those cases we let our tenants down – details of which can be openly found on EDDC’s website – having been reported to our Cabinet. We accept the Ombudsman’s findings and continue to take a learning approach to all outcomes. We recognise where the areas of improvement are for us, two key areas being improved communication with residents as well as improved record keeping. Both issues have been impacted by high levels of vacancies we have experienced in the housing team. We are reassured to note that the vast majority of housing complaints received (97%) during 2021/22 were resolved locally, indicating that our internal complaint procedure is working effectively in providing resolution and remedy for our residents at the earliest possible stage. That said, any finding of maladministration by the ombudsman is something that we need to learn from”.
Permanent secretary James Bowler insisted on Monday that the then-chancellor was told about the potential impact of his £45 billion package of unfunded tax cuts.
But Mr Kwarteng went ahead with the spending spree in September, triggering the pound’s plunge, the soaring cost of government borrowing and chaos in the mortgage market.
Mr Bowler took over as the top civil servant in the Treasury in October after predecessor Sir Tom Scholar was abruptly sacked by Mr Kwarteng.
Cat Little and Beth Russell stepped up to lead the department during the gap and now are joint second permanent secretaries.
On Monday, Ms Russell told the Commons Treasury Committee: “Cat and I are confident that we gave all the advice to ministers on the economic and fiscal backdrop, the impacts and the market position and particularly around the financing requirement, which was a big issue because of the cost of the measures.”
Asked if there was more they could have done, she said: “Ultimately the decisions here are for the ministers.
“It’s our job to make sure we give the best advice possible on the impacts and the consequences, and I think we both feel we did that on the situation in the markets.”
Mr Bowler backed his colleagues, saying he is “absolutely confident Treasury officials set out the right advice to the chancellor”.
He conceded that they could not persuade Mr Kwarteng to take another route, saying “officials advise but ministers decide”.
Labour’s Dame Angela Eagle told him the mini-budget was a “self-inflicted catastrophe”.
“Your words,” Mr Bowler responded.
He said the financial chaos, as well as the coronavirus pandemic and the response to the war in Ukraine, has dented morale in the Treasury.
“It’s been a tough year for Treasury civil servants,” he said.
“There’s been a lot of crisis upon crisis, so Covid, Ukraine energy, so the mini-budget came on top of that.
“Political change, so four chancellors since the summer, and in some quarters negative commentary on Treasury civil servants, none of that has been helpful.
“In terms of morale I think that has had an impact but staff understand they’re working on really, really important areas.”
Mr Bowler started as permanent secretary on October 10 after Sir Tom was sacked on September 8, with his ousting being partly blamed for the financial crisis.
The event this Friday, December 16 will focus on the three suggested development sites surrounding the Heathfield, Gittisham Vale and Hayne Lane areas, which are included in East Devon District Council (EDDC)’s emerging Local Plan.
It has been jointly organised by the Heathfield Community Action Group and local councillor Jake Bonetta.
A spokesperson for the event said: “EDDC have a set number of houses that they are required by the Government to build, and failure to meet the target has consequences that could affect us all.
“The number of houses required is determined by a ‘standard calculation’.
“The land on which these houses are proposed to be built has been identified by landowners and developers. Due to constraints of building around Honiton, a substantial number of these proposed dwellings lie within the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
“Recent polling of local residents by a campaign group has shown massive opposition to the proposed plans, defining areas for hundreds of new homes inside and bordering the East Devon AONB area. These proposed developments, expanding the built-up area boundary of Honiton, could see Honiton expand to within 400m of the historic village of Gittisham.
“All residents in the area will have the opportunity to speak to other residents and submit their views on the emerging Local Plan for onward submission at the in-person event, taking place at The Heathfield Inn on Friday 16th December from 3pm until 7pm. Running as a community-based event and not council-endorsed, this event will provide extra opportunity over and above the consultation run by EDDC for residents to input into the process.”
Responses to the East Devon District Council Local Plan consultation should be submitted to the council by Sunday January 15. The consultation can be viewed online here.
All the responses received through the community-run consultation process on the three Honiton sites will be submitted to EDDC’s consultation by members of the group.
It is usual for most of us to send good wishes at this time of year to celebrate the year gone by and to look forward to a happy new year in the future.
However, the residents of Clyst St Mary feel they have not got much to celebrate since East Devon Planners approved extensive Winslade Park development in their rural community; firstly by approving the Hybrid Application (20/1001/MOUT in July 2021) then subsequently in2022 – the double whammy of both losing a protected green field space safeguarded (or so they thought!) in their Local and Neighbourhood Plans with the approval of 38 houses (21/2235/MRES in June 2022), then, close on the heels of that loss, came the approval on 1st December 2022 of 40 four-storey flats overlooking and encroaching on Clyst Valley Road homes and a protected woodland (21/2217/MRES)!
Overall that’s not much to celebrate in this small corner of East Devon!
We appreciate that it is in the psyche of Developers to get whatever they can for the best profit margins, by ignoring and crushing the social and environmental pillars of sustainability, in favour of ‘dangling the carrot’ of inducements of economic advantage – so we all looked to both East Devon’s planning professional and political personalities to make good judgements for our communities – but it would now appear that they rate Clyst St Mary as expendable and only worthy of registration on their ‘Naughty List’ this Christmas!
To all those who supported the protection of this small community from inappropriate development (you know who you are) – we hope you have a Wonderful Christmas and Happy New Year 2023 – but to those who made such bad planning judgements for this village, during the past two years, (you equally know who you are) – we suggest (for the protection of other communities), rather than you either re-locate professionally to another local authority or seek re-election in a district other than East Devon, that you re-train in an entirely different business, so that others, in future, do not feel the ‘bleak mid-winter chill’ that we have experienced from your substandard recommendations and decision-making.
It appears ‘the Grinch’ is not fictional at all – but is alive, administering and personified by far too many established characters at EDDC, who have ruined Christmas this year, through their misconceived recommendations and judgements under their leaky-umbrella -grasp of the planning processes and their misunderstanding of quality planning procedures!
Unfortunately, (unlike Dr.Seuss’ famous celebrity) – it will not all turn out to have ‘a Happy-Ever-After’ storyline – and sadly there is no Fairy Godmother who can wave her magic wand and improve a very worryingly, bad situation! This Christmas, it’s more a NO! NO! NO! State of Affairs for Clyst St Mary – rather than the more traditional HO! HO! HO! one!
A “decade of neglect” by successive Conservative administrations has weakened the NHS to the point that it will not be able to tackle the 7 million-strong backlog of care, a government-commissioned report has concluded.
The paper by the King’s Fund health thinktank says years of denying funding to the health service and failing to address its growing workforce crisis have left it with too few staff, too little equipment and too many outdated buildings to perform the amount of surgery needed.
The UK’s poor public finances, health service staff suffering from exhaustion, and a wave of NHS strikes this winter will also lead to ministers being unable to deliver key pledges on eradicating routinely long waits, the thinktank says.
The findings are especially embarrassing for the Conservatives because the report was ordered by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) late last year. They are critical of the impact on the NHS of the austerity programme initiated by David Cameron in 2010 and continued by his successor, Theresa May.
The report draws an unfavourable contrast with the tactics used by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s Labour governments in the 2000s to address the horrendously long waits for care they inherited in 1997.
“Though Covid certainly exacerbated the crisis in the NHS and social care, we are ultimately paying the price for a decade of neglect,” said the King’s Fund chief executive, Richard Murray.
“The sporadic injections of cash during the austerity years after 2010 were at best meant to cover [the service’s] day-to-day running costs. This dearth of long-term investment has led to a health and care system hamstrung by a lack of staff and equipment and crumbling buildings. These critical challenges have been obvious for years.
“The NHS in 2022 faces many of the same challenges it faced in 2000: unacceptably long waiting times and a service hobbled by staff shortages. To that is now added a cost of living crisis, industrial action by staff and a backdrop of a weak economy and weak public finances.”
The report is based on the first in-depth academic research undertaken in the UK into what measures ministers and NHS bosses can deploy to tackle situations such as those prevailing today, where massive numbers of patients are again facing long delays to access planned hospital care.
Its findings are based on a review of evidence around waiting times and, in particular, interviews with 14 experts, including many of the key figures in Labour’s successful eradication of long waits.
One of the experts, none of whom are named, said: “We have essentially had 10 years of managed decline. This is not a Covid problem. This is an austerity problem.”
The report pinpoints Cameron’s decision to reduce the NHS’s annual budget increases from Labour’s 3.6% to an average of just 1.5% as the key reason for the service’s loss of capacity. The service’s performance against a number of waiting time targets that Labour introduced began spiralling downwards in 2015 and has worsened every year since.
The report comes days after the latest official figures showed that the waiting list in England for non-urgent care in hospital had reached a new record high of 7.2 million people. Of those, 410,983 had been waiting for more than a year for treatment – such as a hip or knee replacement, cataract removal or hernia repair – that should take a maximum of 18 weeks.
The leaders of Britain’s A&E doctors as well as NHS ambulance service bosses in England have voiced acute concern about the number of patients coming to harm, and even dying, as a direct result of waiting for an ambulance to arrive or to get into A&E or from there into a hospital bed.
The 81-page document is being published later this week. It says the NHS’s lack of resources, combined with the different political, financial and economic circumstances that apply today, mean that politically important promises made earlier this year in NHS England’s “elective recovery plan” are highly unlikely to be met.
They included pledges to end waits of two years, 18 months and one year by the summer, next spring and 2025 respectively.
The government has promised to put £8bn into tackling the backlog and NHS England has set up dozens of community diagnostic centres to help speed up patients’ tests and treatment.
In his response to the Guardian about the report, Blair criticised all six of the Tory administrations since Labour lost power in 2010, for deviating from the three strategies he used to eradicate delays: reform, investment and political focus. He said that change of approach damaged the NHS’s ability to deliver care within established waiting time targets.
“These key elements were, and I believe still are, essential in improving public services. Since Labour left office, each pillar of these principles has been weakened in regard to our health service,” Blair said. “As the report says, waiting lists are now at their highest level since the 18-week referral to treatment measure was introduced in 2004, as well as a collapse in urgent care.”
He also took aim at ministers’ repeated efforts to depict the massive waiting list for care – which already stood at 4.4 million when the pandemic hit in spring 2020 – as “the Covid backlog”. Blair said: “This isn’t a result of Covid, but chronic underinvestment and mismanagement exacerbated by Covid.”
He added: “The lessons of that [Labour government] period, which ended with satisfaction levels with the NHS at record highs, remain the same because they are lessons about governing: the government and prime minister make it a priority, devoting time and energy; a policy is put in place which is based on what works; and then there is a relentless effort across government to ensure delivery.”
Blair said the King’s Fund’s findings “must act as a political wake-up call to renew efforts to reform the NHS, give this reform the political focus and grip it needs and align this with the right strategic investment”.
The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.
How much more damage can the privatised water companies’ lack of investment do?
They pollute our rivers and bathing beaches and now cut off our gas! – Owl
A private water company responsible for maintaining a 50-year-old asbestos-cement pipe that burst and left thousands of people in Sheffield without gas should spend “much more” of its £242m annual profits upgrading its infrastructure, an MP has said.
With snow on the ground and temperatures below zero, at least 200 households in the area of north-west Sheffield were still without gas on Monday, 11 days after Yorkshire Water’s mains pipe burst and flooded the gas network with more than 1.5m litres of water. About 2,000 homes were initially affected.
Olivia Blake, the Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam, said Yorkshire Water had “very deep pockets” and should properly compensate everyone affected in the Stannington and Malin Bridge area of Sheffield, as well as invest vastly more of its profits in replacing old pipes at the end of their lifespan.
“Not enough of their profits are going into upgrading their infrastructure, and we see the results not just in the current situation in Sheffield but also in the sewage they allow to flow into our rivers and waterways and the leaks popping up all over communities,” said Blake, who was previously the shadow water minister.
She added: “There have been a series of failures over many years, clearly driven by a want for profit. Yorkshire Water has very deep pockets and should be doing much more.”
Feargal Sharkey, the water campaigner and former frontman of the Undertones, said the Sheffield situation showed “it’s time to make water company directors personally and collectively liable”.
Experts say the 23,000 miles (37,000km) of asbestos-cement piping laid in Britain is coming to the end of its 50-70 year lifespan, with 6% of Yorkshire Water’s pipes yet to be replaced.
The Sheffield pipe had burst before, most recently in 2013, Yorkshire Water said. But the company added it had “no concerns” about drinking water in the Stannington and Hillsborough area after collecting samples since the incident began. About £500,000 had been spent on mains pipes in the affected areas over the past two years, a spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for Cadent, which runs the gas distribution network, said on Monday morning that “just over 200 homes” were still waiting to be reconnected after the incident on 2 December. Most of those are in Malin Bridge, which is at the bottom of a hill and so was particularly badly affected as the water in the pipes was pulled down by gravity.
“We are hopeful that all of these properties will be back on gas by the end of the day,” said the spokesperson. Eight of those are on the vulnerable priority register, she added.
According to its annual performance report, in 2021-22, Yorkshire Water made £242.3m operating profit on a turnover of £1.18bn. The company said it spent £434.1m “acquiring, maintaining, and enhancing assets and infrastructure”. It paid out £52.6m in dividends, which a spokesperson said were “payments to its holding company to cover operating costs and service costs for debt held at holding company level”.
The company was penalised £10.2m by the regulator for not meeting targets on internal sewer flooding and a further £2.48m for pollution incidents, and £7.42m for a total of 41 “significant water supply events” that left customers without water for at least 12 hours.
Yorkshire Water has so far agreed to an automatic £30 payment to all affected customers in Sheffield to go towards excess energy costs. It is also inviting households to claim for additional costs incurred as well as water damage via a form on its website.
Yorkshire Water said: “Our profits are invested directly in improvement to our clean and wastewater networks to develop innovative ways of working and delivering the best value for our customers. We have not paid dividends to investors for the last seven years and during that time have invested £2.5bn in maintaining, innovating, and growing the business and its assets to be fit for the future.”
People left without heating for days as temperatures plunge
Homes across Cranbrook have been left without heating for almost a week as freezing cold temperatures take hold. The town is supplied with communal district heating by energy provider E.on – but many homes have been left without heating for around five days.
Residents say that E.on, which supplies the entire town with heating, with no alternative available for residents, have told them the issue is in the process of being resolved. But the company has reportedly not offered those affected with alternative methods of heating in the meantime.
MP for the area Simon Jupp has urged the energy giants to resolve the issue immediately. He wrote an open letter to E.on’s Chief Executive Michael Lewis, in which he slammed their response to the ongoing issue as “woefully inadequate”.
An E.ON spokesperson said that they were aware of a number of customers in Cranbrook reporting issues with their heating and hot water supplies. They said it was not an issue with the network itself, the priority was to return heat to customers, and they apologised for any inconvenience caused.
Affected residents have said that they have been forced to stay with friends and family as it has been too cold to stay in their homes. Some have been forced to use fan heaters to keep warm.
One resident, Faye Thompson, has said she has been taking her children out for the day and been staying with relatives and friends as it is too cold to sleep in the house. She explained that the family has had no heating for five days and, only today has had the heating fixed.
Faye said: “I live in Cranbrook and, along with several others, I’ve had no heating for five days now. I’ve phoned eon multiple times and been told they’re working on it. I’ve asked for electric heaters to be supplied but this is not forthcoming.
“Sunday was the third night I’ve had to take my children out for the day. Friends and relatives are putting us up overnight because I can no longer sleep at home. I’ve received absolutely no communication, despite being told text messages have been sent to customers.
“The situation is completely unacceptable. They told me on Thursday that it was a site issue. (We have communal district heating). I was then told it was an individual on Friday. I’m getting different information every time I speak to someone. I am so frustrated with the whole situation and this cannot continue.”
Faye said that on Monday her heating had been fixed. But she went on to say: “It was eight degrees in my property today and I should work from home. Thankfully they attended late in the morning and it’s now been fixed. I’m so frustrated that this could have been resolved last week.”
Another resident, Julian Bennellick, who has lived in Cranbrook with his wife and daughter for over six years and is having heating issues for the first time. The household’s heating has been off since Thursday and they are now using fan heaters.
After explaining to an operator over the phone on Friday, December 9, that the radiators did not need bleeding and that he believed it was a problem with the heat exchanger, Julian was told an engineer would be sent out to his home today (Monday, December 12).
Julian said: “I’ve taken the day off work. We’ve been running a fan heater all weekend, just to keep one room warm which obviously impacts us because we’re paying for more electricity.
“It’s obviously impacting a lot of people. I think the main thing is that we’re tied into E.on so we can’t even get a third party plumber out. My wife’s a nurse for the NHS and she’s done a night shift and had to come back to a freezing cold home.”
There have been further comments made by others living in Cranbrook on social media, with some claiming that even those on the “priority list” have been told they may have to wait six to eight hours for an engineer. It is unknown if any of the homes affected by this particular issue have had their heating resolved.
Cranbrook is part of a ‘district heating scheme’, meaning they are all heated by an energy centre, rather than a boiler, located half a mile away which can only be run by one supplier, which is currently E.on. All 2,000 homes are signed up to E.on under an agreement which is in place until 2090.
East Devon MP Simon Jupp has also now called on E.on to resolve the issue promptly and offer compensation after he received multiple complaints from Cranbrook households over the course of the last week. The Conservative wrote an open letter to E.on’s Chief Executive Michael Lewis, in which he slammed the energy provider’s response to the ongoing issue as “woefully inadequate”.
In the letter, Mr Jupp asked: “I would like to request that you make every effort to sort this mess out as an urgent priority given cold temperatures are forecast to continue this week; and provide affected households with compensation.
“Your services and basic communication about this matter have fallen far short of what is acceptable. Cranbrook residents deserve so much better.”
He Tweeted the letter, stating: “My open letter to @eonenergyuk after many residents in #Cranbrook continue to struggle without heating. E.ON must step up, urgently reconnect customers & compensate everyone left without heating during this bitterly cold snap.”
An E.ON spokesperson said: “We are aware of a number of customers in Cranbrook reporting issues with their heating and hot water supplies. This is not an issue with the network itself, the problem stems from an issue with valves in the heat interface units in some customer homes, and this disrupts the hot water flow from the network into individual properties.
“Our priority is to return heat to customers as quickly as possible and engineers have been working around the clock to visit customers and reset or replace valves that have failed. We are prioritising vulnerable customers and redeploying engineers from other E.ON sites in support.
“We apologise to customers and we’re making portable heaters available for their use while our engineers complete the works. All affected customers will be given compensation as part of our service guarantees.”
The social landlords in England with the worst records of maladministration have been named by the housing ombudsman, who said failures were “deeply concerning” and that poor performance was “still at unacceptably high levels”.
[Owl understands EDDC will be releasing a statement this morning]
Richard Blakeway, the regulator of England’s 4.4m social homes, concluded there was maladministration in 90% of the complaints cases brought to it by tenants of Golding Homes, which provides housing for more than 21,000 people across Kent, including in the case of a resident who complained for seven years about problems including damp and cold.
He said 86% of complaints considered about Lambeth and Southwark Housing Association in London were judged to amount to maladministration, and 89% of complaints about East Devon district council. The figures relate to the period from April 2021 to March 2022.
The physical condition of homes was the biggest reason for referrals to the watchdog over that period, and in more than half of cases it concluded there had been service failures by the landlord. The named landlords have been approached for comment.
Blakeway said: “We recognise that social landlords and residents are facing unprecedented challenges, with a cost of living crisis and ageing homes, but a positive complaints handling culture remains vital. Our review highlights the challenges with embedding this and also shows poor performance in some service areas still at unacceptably high levels.
“Too often landlords can focus on managing the reputational risk to their organisation when things go wrong, rather than learning and improvement.”
Steph Goad, the chief executive of Golding, said: “In 2021-22, we had two findings of maladministration from the housing ombudsman. We understand two cases is still too many and we fully accepted the ombudsman’s findings and have been working to put things right and learn from them.”
The handling of complaints was a major cause of problems, with shortcomings found in more than eight of 10 cases where a tenant had raised concerns about how their complaint to the landlord was handled. There was also a significant decline in the number of residents who think making a complaint would make a difference, compared with the previous year.
There has been growing concern about safety and standards in social housing after the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak as a result of chronic damp in a rented flat in Rochdale.
After a coroner’s verdict last month that prolonged exposure to mould was to blame for the boy’s fatal respiratory illness, the chief executive of the registered social landlord was fired and Michael Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, directed all English councils to “make an urgent assessment of housing conditions … with particular focus on issues of damp and mould, and enforcement action being taken.”
Gove said: “I am putting housing providers on notice, I will take whatever action is required to improve standards across the country and ensure tenants’ voices are heard.”
The housing sector and campaigners have argued they need greater funding to build new homes and have warned that a recent decision by the government to cap rent rises at 7% in response to the cost of living crisis will hamper their progress.