‘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.