‘Do your best not to get ill during the current NHS strikes’

Martin Shaw, Chair East Devon Alliance www.exmouthjournal.co.uk

I hope you’ve had a good Christmas and are getting ready to celebrate New Year. When the country is in such a mess, we need the good cheer of family and friends all the more.

Just don’t get too relaxed, and above all do your best not to get ill or have an accident. Our NHS trust’s chief medical officer has urged the public to “think very carefully whether it’s the right thing to do” before going to the A&E in Exeter. Similarly the South Western Ambulance Service is urging us “to think carefully before dialling 999”.

These depressing appeals were made before the recent beginning of NHS industrial action. For weeks and months, A&E had already suffered ever longer delays and the SW ambulance service has been the worst-performing in the country.

Strikes will make things even more difficult in the short term, but nurses and ambulance workers are right say that the NHS was already broken. It is outrageous of the government to blame the strikers for problems that have been festering on their watch for a very long time.

I have no special brief for the last Labour government but the figures show that the NHS was healthier – and nurses ’pay improved – until the Conservatives took over 12 years ago. Since then, funding has not kept pace with the needs of an older population, while a decade of below-inflation pay rises has led to chronic staff shortages.

Paying staff properly is part of the solution and it is nonsense to say that the country can’t afford it. Close down the tax havens, end the scandal of “non-doms”, introduce full windfall taxes on energy firms, tax wealth properly, and you’ll be able to afford proper public services once again.

Another problem throughout the public services is deteriorating buildings. You may have seen Tiverton & Honiton’s MP, Richard Foord, being shown the leaking roof of Tiverton High School on TV – repairs have been promised, but failed to materialise, for years. Likewise in Exmouth, they waited years for the tennis centre roof to be repaired.

The government has been content to allow the public sector to rot, and Conservatives in local councils have connived in this. At East Devon District Council, when a new coalition of East Devon Alliance, Lib Dems and Greens took over two and a half years ago, they discovered just how much the Tories had let things slide.

Nowhere was this clearer than in social housing. The council’s housing stock had been hollowed out by the Right to Buy, since the council didn’t get enough money to replace the homes sold on. Today EDDC has over 4700 individuals and families on its waiting list, and there have been 70 new requests to buy already this year, so even fewer homes will be available. Recently there were 170 applications for a single council home in Seaton.

Under its new leadership, EDDC is at last helping to address this scandal. On the initiative of Seaton councillor Dan Ledger, EDDC is now working to deliver more truly affordable, secure and sustainable homes for the residents who need them most. The first site of 25 units will be delivered late next year in Honiton, subject to planning.

To fully solve the housing problem we need a national scheme to build social housing. Sadly that’s unlikely to happen under the Conservatives, but hopefully 2023 will be the last full year we have to put up with their travesty of a government.

Second home owners in some of Devon’s most desirable hotspots are to be clobbered with a double Council Tax bill. The move has been passed unanimously by councillors in the South Hams, a district which includes Dartmouth, Salcombe, Hope Cove and other sought-after seaside destinations.

More on the state the Tories are in

Rees-Mogg warns Tories face ‘inevitable defeat’ in an election as he mulls leadership bid.

“Jacob certainly would be a popular choice for members and be the right leader to reset the Conservative Party into something more conservative again.” A Tory MP is quoted as saying.

Emily Ferguson inews.co.uk

Jacob Rees-Mogg has said the Conservative Party faces an “inevitable defeat” in the next general election as sources close to the former minister say he is mulling a leadership bid if the party is ousted from Government.

The former Brexit Opportunities minister, an ardent critic of Rishi Sunak, is also understood to have considered running to replace his friend and ally Boris Johnson in the summer leadership contest.

But after 24 hours, Mr Rees-Mogg decided not to run as he was not sufficiently prepared compared to frontrunners Liz Truss and Mr Sunak, who had set the wheels in motion months before Mr Johnson was forced to quit.

A source close to Mr Rees-Mogg told the Daily Express: “Jacob thought about it overnight but decided that his loyalty to Boris meant that he had not put a team in place to be able to win a contest while others had.

“Also, Liz Truss was quick out of the blocks which meant it was difficult for him to run against her.”

The Tory MP for North East Somerset decided instead to back Ms Truss for the leadership. He was joined by other loyalists of Mr Johnson, including former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries.

Since Mr Sunak replaced her as Prime Minister after she lasted just 44 days in office, Mr Rees-Mogg has proved to be a strident critic of her replacement.

Mr Rees-Mogg heavily criticised Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement, accusing him of taking the “easy option” of putting up taxes.

He was critical of freezing income tax bands and said this would be hard on those forced into the 40p tax band.

But despite his own vocal opposition to the PM, he has urged colleagues to remain loyal to Mr Sunak to avoid a landslide election defeat.

He said rebellions are “ill-advised” as they will ultimately tarnish the party’s electability.

Though Mr Rees-Mogg already appears to have conceded defeat at the next election, according to the Express.

Friends of the Brexit minister told the newspaper that he thinks the Tories may even need an election defeat, suggesting if they win “what would they have to offer the country?”

Though former PM Theresa May is more optimistic, and told BBC Radio 4 that while there is “no doubt” the party’s brand took a knock under Ms Truss, Mr Sunak has shown “can turn it round and we can win that election.”

Sources also said Mr Rees-Mogg is mulling a leadership run if the Conservatives lose the next election and Mr Sunak is forced to resign.

He is said to believe “the right needs to have a candidate after what appears to be an inevitable election defeat”, according to the paper.

Mr Rees-Mogg denied the reports, telling i: “Although the current polling is not great two years is a long time and it is simply to early to say.”

Mr Rees-Mogg has long been a controversial figure in the Tory party and any attempt at the leadership would be unlikely to unite the party.

Much of the public view him as out of touch and with anachronistic attitudes on issues such as gay marriage and abortion.

Other Tory MPs expected to run in any fresh leadership race include Penny Mordaunt, Priti Patel, Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman.

One MP said: “Jacob certainly would be a popular choice for members and be the right leader to reset the Conservative Party into something more conservative again.”

Others though fear he would “not appeal to a wider audience.”

‘First EDDC cabinet takes place next week, with a packed agenda’ [Updated 16:55]

[Sidmouth Herald managed to clip the last two paras which have now been reinstated]

Paul Arnott www.sidmouthherald.co.uk

It’s an odd thing that the more all-consuming your work, the more just two or three days off from it can restore the spirits. In previous articles, I have mentioned what a tiny allowance district councillors receive for work which, for the hard-working majority, consumes at least two and a half working days per week.

For that, a councillor can claim £4,360 per annum, taxed. Before tax, they are lucky if this amounts to more than £4 per hour.

And this is proper work. Perhaps in the old days a district council role was part of an elderly member of a community’s retirement, the allowance perhaps allowing a cabin upgrade for their annual cruise.

That’s not how it is these days. The work is technical, and challenging. Meetings are long with agendas are often the length of a short novel.

Nobody can remember when these allowances were last raised, although in the coming year an independent review will have a look. East Devon’s are, I understand, just about the lowest in the south west. Despite this, I have not heard any special pleading. Councillors understand it is an honour to serve.

As leader of the council, I was back to the desk on the 27th, in preparation for the first cabinet of the year next week. If you have a moment, may I please suggest a glance at the agenda, published on the website. There are a couple of items in particular which show how my administration and our officers are doing all we can to help those especially struggling at the moment.

We are discussing a “Cost of Living Hardship Fund”, to replace the fund running during Covid-19. In particular this will target homes, especially those with poor insulation and low energy ratings, whose energy bills are a great worry this winter.

Then we discuss the Council Tax Reduction Scheme for 2023/24. From the work we have been doing on poverty and financial resilience since 2020, we have recognised that low-income households are being disproportionately impacted by the cost-of-living crisis. In addition, welfare reform over the last 10 years has seen real term cuts in benefit payments.,

As a result, more and more people are becoming reliant on foodbanks or accessing emergency support funds. These proposed changes will provide real term benefits to those households on low incomes, and the two largest groups to gain will be families with children and households where there is a disabled resident living.

I mention all this because I want readers to know that our work is not just about planning. These proposed changes support the work the Council is doing as part of its poverty strategy by building financial resilience, and helping to lift people out of repeat financial crises.

The consideration given to devising these schemes, ensuring that they are both lawful and affordable, is highly complex. This is many hours of work, and many meetings, for councillors. The burden of administering it all then falls on our deeply committed officers. The relationship between councillor and officer must never be complicated by politics, but my sense is that these sensible, centrist measures strike a chord with our staff.

Which brings me to conclude with a matter I often forget to mention! What is the political identity at EDDC? Well, about a third of councillors are Conservative and since 2019 they are the opposition.

But the council is actually governed by what we ended up calling a “Democratic Alliance” of Independents (mainly East Devon Alliance Indies), Lib Dems and Greens.

We get all sorts thrown at us, and with district councils up for election in May, this will probably escalate. But we govern from the centre in the most transparent way EDDC has ever managed. I hope that, acknowledging imperfections, this matches most of your wishes too. Happy New Year.

East Devon Local Plan ‘needs revision’ after change in housing targets

Are the Tories going into reverse after decades of “build, build, build”? – Owl

There are calls for East Devon’s plans for building new homes to be revised following the Government’s relaxation of its housing targets. 

Philippa Davies www.exmouthjournal.co.uk 

In early December the Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove announced that councils would be allowed to build fewer homes than the number originally allocated to them. Rather than facing mandatory targets based on national algorithms, local planning authorities will have more flexibility to decide what is right for their areas. 

East Devon District Council had been told to build more than 900 new homes every year, and the Local Plan currently under public consultation is based upon this number. 

But the chairman of the council’s scrutiny committee, Cllr Mike Allen, has called in the Local Plan for review at the meeting of the committee in February. 

He said: “Michael Gove’s announcement changes everything. Our population is declining, so the only reason we’re supposed to build new houses is to allow people to come into the East Devon area. 

“If we don’t have to because the rules have changed, we need to look at the Local Plan again.” 

Cllr Allen (Conservative, Honiton St Michael’s) said East Devon, with its larger-than-average population of over-65s, needs many more homes that are suitable for elderly people, and more wheelchair-friendly houses for people of all ages. A review of the Local Plan would enable East Devon District Council to make sure the right number, and the right type, of houses are built, where they are most needed. 

And he emphasised that it is ‘critical’ that parish and town councils, and members of the public, should have their voices heard in this decision-making process. 

He said that, while many people have been finding it difficult to submit their comments to the district council’s online consultation which closes on January 15, anyone can make their views known to February’s Scrutiny Committee meeting where the review of the Local Plan will be discussed. They can contact the committee through their own district councillor, contact any member of the committee, or contact Cllr Allen directly by writing to him at the council’s HQ or emailing mallen@eastdevon.gov.uk 

The Scrutiny Committee meeting will discuss what changes are needed to the Local Plan and how these could be made, and its recommendation will go before the full council at a later stage.