Want to change things in East Devon – become an independent councillor

You don’t have to do it alone – East Devon Alliance is happy to help those who want to help their communities, who have that necessary independent streak, and who are happy to adhere to the Nolan Principles of Public Life:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-7-principles-of-public-life/the-7-principles-of-public-life–2

Elections take place on 2 May 2019.

Young people, women, minorities and people with disabilities are particularly unrepresented on councils – there is a government fund for helping disabled people to become councillors:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/cash-grants-to-help-disabled-people-in-standing-for-election-extended-for-another-year

If you are interested, you can attend the EDA AGM on Saturday 23 February 2019 at 11 am (Dissenters Hall, Sidmouth) where you can meet current councillors or you can contact EDA at:

secretaryeastdevonalliance@gmail.com

The more independent councillors there are, the sooner East Devon can be changed for the better. No following party lines, no party whip, no instructions from people who know nothing about your area and care only about party policies … what’s stopping you!

“Number using food banks in part of Devon doubles in six months”

“The number of people using food banks in the Sid Valley has more than doubled in the last six months.

The Sid Valley Food Bank’s co-ordinator Andie Milne told East Devon councillors on Wednesday night of the alarming numbers of people and the stark rise in numbers of people they are seeing.

She said that six months ago, they were dealing with 15 families a week, but last week, more than 30 families came through their doors, with 36 children being helped.

And she added that last week they helped a family from Axminster as there was no help available in the East of the county for them, and raised concern over what would happen to the emergency food bags located at the council’s Knowle HQ, that sometimes are refilled four times a week, when the council offices move to Honiton early in 2019.

Her comments came prior to the full council unanimously supporting a motion brought forward by Cllr Cathy Gardner, of East Devon Alliance, calling for a report on the potential impacts of benefits changes and spending cuts on people in East Devon and whether there was a need for further support from the council in supporting the roll-out of Universal Credit, homelessness prevention or for local food banks.

Proposing her motion, Cllr Gardner said: “Most of us are doing okay and are comfortable, some are doing extremely well, but some are struggling, and we have a civic duty to see if we can do more. I would be horrified to learn if a child suffered as we failed to something in some way to help.

“I am not criticising the council or the hard work that our officers do to help people but simply to ask if there is anything more that we could do, as we know that people are struggling with Universal Credit.

“If the report says it is all perfect, then we can rest easy, but I want the report to come forward so we can be seen as outstanding, caring and vigilant.”

Cllr Marianne Rixson, supporting the motion, added that some people are being forced to use food banks just to make ends meet, even though they are in employment. …”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/number-using-food-banks-part-2323249

Knowle Flog It: statement raises more questions than answers

An “explanation” of the Knowle Flog It fiasco appears in today’s Sidmouth Herald. It appears to be printed verbatim from a council statement.

Owl wonders why this statement was printed without challenging some of its very, very vague claims – one hesitates to use the word ‘facts’. “Journalism”? Not as Owl knows it!

Guess some answers MIGHT come from the Freedom of Information request by an Exmouth resident on 8 January 2019:
https://eastdevonwatch.org/2019/01/10/the-knowle-flog-it-scandal-rumbles-on/

In the meantime:

Amongst Owl’s questions:

It seems Councillor Skinner paid £400 for the table he wanted so urgently – earlier reports mentioned it being valued at a very low price, much lower than £400. Which is correct? And including just how many chairs?

Who decided on the “three disposal methods? It does not appear to be the Asset Management Group.

Which councillors have bought items? Have they declared these on their Registers of Interest?

Which groups were offered ‘free’ items, how were they chosen and by whom? Have any of these groups taken items – and if so, which groups and how much did they pay for them?

What exactly is the Chairman’s Civic Fund and how and when has it been used recently and in the past? What are its rules? Who oversees the disbursements?

Which local groups and charities will be able to bid for what is left after officers and councillors have taken their pick? How have they been chosen and by whom?

Are internal and external auditors happy with the procedures?

Will the Scrutiny Committee be scrutinising these actions?

Owl is sure readers have many more questions!

Chilling report on NHS sustainability – it isn’t sustainable

Owl says: anyone who cares about the NHS should read EVERY PAGE of this 58-page report, which is written in clear and accessible language.

Every page signals a death-knell for the NHS sooner rather than later.

It is hard to pick out anything – every page tells a story of (deliberate?) mismanagement, underfunding and chaotic accounting.

For example:

“Key findings

The funding settlement for the NHS long-term plan

8 The long-term funding settlement does not cover key areas of health spending. The 3.4% average uplift in funding applies to the budget for NHS England and not to the Department’s entire budget. The Department’s budget covers other important areas of health spending such as most capital investment for buildings and equipment, prevention initiatives run by Public Health England and local authorities, and funding for doctors’ and nurses’ training. Spending in these areas could affect the NHS’s ability to deliver the priorities of the long-term plan, especially if funding for these areas reduces. The government will consider proposals in these areas as part of its 2019 Spending Review. In addition, without a long-term funding settlement for social care, local NHS bodies are concerned that it will be very difficult to make the NHS sustainable (paragraphs 2.27 and 2.28).

9 There is a risk that the NHS will be unable to use the extra funding optimally because of staff shortages. Difficulties in recruiting NHS staff presents a real risk that some of the extra £20.5 billion funding will either not be used optimally (more expensive agency staff will need to be used to deliver additional services) or will go unspent as even if commissioners have the resources to commission additional activity, health care providers may not have the staff to deliver it (paragraphs 1.19 and 2.29).

10 From what we have seen so far, the NHS long-term plan sets out a prudent approach to achieving the priorities and tests set by the government, but a number of risks remain. The long-term plan describes how the NHS aims to achieve the range of priorities and five financial tests, set by the government in return for the long-term funding settlement, which NHS England believes are stretching but feasible. As with all long-term plans, it provides a helpful indicator of the direction of travel, but significant internal and external risks remain to making the plan happen. These risks include: growing pressures on services; staffing shortages; funding for social care and public health; and the strength of the economy. Our reports have highlighted how previous funding boosts appear to have mostly been spent on dealing with current pressures rather than making the changes that are needed to put the NHS on a sustainable footing (paragraphs 2.24 to 2.26).

Financial and operational performance of NHS bodies

11 In 2017-18, NHS commissioners and trusts reported a combined deficit of £21 million. This was made up of:

The combined deficit of £21 million does not include adjustments needed to report against the Department’s budget for day-to-day resources and administration costs.

12 It is not clear that funding is reaching the right parts of the system.
The overspends by trusts and CCGs were broadly offset by the underspend by NHS England. In 2017-18, NHS England’s underspend included: £962 million from non-recurrent central programme costs, including efficiencies from vacancies;

a £280 million contribution to the risk reserve and £223 million from centrally commissioned services, mostly specialised services (paragraphs 1.4 and 1.8).

13 Most of the combined trust deficit is accounted for by a small number of trusts, while the number of CCGs in deficit increased in 2017-18. The net trust deficit hides wide variation in performance between trusts, with 100 out of 232 trusts in deficit. In 2017-18, 69% of the total trust deficit was accounted for by 10 trusts. NHS Improvement has committed to returning the trust sector to balance in 2020-21, but it is difficult to see how this will be achieved for the worst-performing trusts under current arrangements. Although support provided to trusts in NHS Improvement’s financial special measures programme has been successful in improving the position of some trusts (by £49 million in 2017-18), the financial performance of the 10 worst-performing trusts deteriorated significantly in 2017-18. Between 2016-17 and 2017-18, the number of CCGs reporting overspends against their planned position increased from 57 to 75. The NHS long-term plan sets out the national bodies’ aim that no NHS organisation is reporting a deficit by 2023-24 (paragraphs 1.6 and 1.11).

14 There are indications that the underlying financial health in some trusts
is getting worse. In 2017-18, trusts reported that their combined underlying deficit was £4.3 billion, or £1.85 billion if the Provider Sustainability Fund (which replaced the Sustainability and Transformation Fund in 2018-19) is allocated to trusts in future years. There is no historical data on the underlying deficit that takes account of one-off savings, emergency extra cash and other short-term fixes that boost the financial position of the NHS, so it is not clear whether this position is getting better or worse. However, indicators such as cash support and one-off efficiency savings suggest the position has not improved. For example, in 2017-18, the Department gave £3.2 billion in loans to support trusts in difficulty, up from £2.8 billion in 2016-17. In 2017-18, 26% of trusts’ savings were one-off. Trusts will need to make additional savings in 2018-19 to replace these one-off savings (paragraphs 1.13, 1.14, 2.13, 2.17 and 2.18).”

https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/NHS-financial-sustainability_.pdf

Auditers warned about council manipulation of funds for commercial ventures

“Auditors have been encouraged to scrutinise council accounts to ensure that balance sheets are not being manipulated in order to justify commercial ventures.

The National Audit Office has released a new guidance note for local government auditors, covering a range of issues thrown up by recent changes in regulation and council practice.

The section on commercialisation has been produced in response to the growth in council commercial activity as a means of dealing with substantial funding reductions, the note said.

“Auditors should be mindful of any incentives to achieve a particular balance sheet position that arise from an authority’s commercial activities when planning their audit work,” the note said.

The note also brought auditors’ attention to the changing nature of investment activity, primarily in commercial property, carried out through asset-backed joint-venture arrangements, rather than traditional debt-backed approaches.

It said: “The scale and nature of authorities’ commercial activity brings both risks to the auditor’s value for money arrangements conclusion and the opinion on the financial statements.

“The former covers the reasonableness of decision making, including the relevant risk assessment, appropriate skills of the authority and the appropriateness of advice.”

Councils need to consider the impact of commercial ventures both on the accounts of any standalone entities, as well as the group accounts, it said.

The note also warned councils that the general power of competence, introduced in the Localism Act 2011, does not give them unlimited powers over their decisions relating to commercial ventures.

It said: “Auditors in considering their value for money arrangements conclusion will need to assure themselves that schemes have been entered into following appropriate legal and financial advice, having regard to Wednesbury principles of reasonableness.

“While the general power of competence has made it easier for authorities to undertake commercial activity, this power does not override the need for authorities to comply where there is already an existing legal duty, for example, compliance with the capital financing regulations.”

Elsewhere,the NAO note encourages auditors to ensure that councils are complying with rules allowing councils to use certain capital receipts on revenue funding.

“With pressure to find revenue funding authorities may incorrectly apply the guidance to apply capital receipts for a revenue purpose contrary to the requirements of the capital financing regulations,” the NAO said.

In March last year, auditor KPMG warned that warned that plans by Northamptonshire County Council to spend £40.9m in capital receipts on transformation projects were “not on any view achievable”.

Auditors,the NAO said, should determine whether councils have complied with the capital receipts flexibility guidance, and review the “reasonableness and realism” of councils’ assumptions.

“Auditors should be alert to the risk that authorities may misapply the flexibility to convert ineligible capital receipts to support their general fund expenditure,” it said.

The NAO note also reiterated the role of the auditor in cases where councils might decide to issue a section 114 notice.

In situations where a section 114 notice could be issued, auditors should seek discussions with the NAO and “engage with the section 151 officer regarding consequent courses of action should the section 151 officer’s actions not be successful in averting an unbalanced budget.”

Stephen Sheen, managing director of local government finance consultancy Ichabod’s Industries, said: “Auditors are required to have regard to the guidance when planning and carrying out their audits.

“This doesn’t mean that they have to agree with it, but they must have considered it in arriving at any position that they take on the relevant issues.”

http://www.room151.co.uk/funding/nao-urges-close-watch-on-commercialisation/

Hitachi suspends Wales nuclear plant – what is the business case for Hinkley C

Hinkley C is leaking out money from Devon via the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, whose board (past and present) includes people with direct and tangential interests in the nuclear industry and that particular site.

Now we hear that Hitachi is suspending work on the nuclear plant it was meant to build in Wales. It is prepared to take a hit of more than £4 billion to walk away.

It begs questions:

How can the French (EDF) and Chinese – who now own Hinkley C – make a business case for Hinkley C even with the massive subsidy for its (eventual) electricity?

Just how much of OUR money is propping up these French and Chinese businesses?

What is the Plan B if one or both of the companies fail; how much of OUR money will be used to plug financial holes?

What effect has this had on renewable energy sources in Devon and Cornwall?

How much more money is our LEP going to divert to this project?

Squatters in Persimmon and Redrow homes that buyers can’t move into “because access road not completed”

“SQUATTERS have invaded brand new £300,000 houses after a legal ruling banned residents from moving into their own homes.

The luxury family homes, which have already been bought, are still unoccupied after a bitter row over an access road erupted. …

… Developers Persimmon and Redrow are jointly building 500 properties on the Yew Tree Hill estate, which is on the outskirts of Droitwich, Worcs.

But a dispute broke out last February between the companies and Wychavon District Council.

Planners had initially agreed for 188 finished homes to be occupied before an access road on the A38 leading to the estate was completed.

But the council became concerned the roadworks were not on track to be finished properly so it took the developers to court.

They then secured an injunction banning any more people from moving into the properties until the access road was widened.

Residents say no new homes have been built for months and the completed houses have become a haven for squatters.

‘THEY’VE LIED TO US’

Retired police officer Mark Naylor, 52, who moved into one of the first homes with wife Dawn, 51, in December 2017, said: “There has been crime on the estate with people breaking into unoccupied houses.

“Vans have turned up with people trying to break down fencing and get inside to try and take whatever they can.

“Homeless people are sleeping rough in the houses.

“I do feel sorry for people who have put down deposits but can’t move in.

“Persimmon are happy for the residents to just soldier on. They’ve lied to us.”

‘OVERRUN WITH SQUATTERS’

Another resident living in the finished side of the development added: “It’s a nightmare.

“The estate is being overrun with squatters and gangs targeting the empty houses.

“Sometimes at night you can hear them trying to snap the locks on the fences around the empty houses and sometimes the sound of glass breaking.”

The resident says “squatters and undesirables” have “exploited the window of opportunity created by the legal row”.

They added: “It must be torture knowing you’re dream home is being abused by squatters and rough sleepers while you’re powerless to do anything to stop it.

“It’s not right. The developers aren’t interested and the people who already live here and those waiting to move in have been hung out to dry.”

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/8209327/squatters-take-over-new-homes-droitwich-yew-tree-hill/