Independent East Devon Alliance councillors spearhead rethink on Port Royal development

“Cllr Cathy Gardner, who jointly led the ‘Three Rs’ campaign to retain, refurbish and re-use existing buildings at Port Royal, said: “I’m delighted that the reference group has reacted to the views of residents and the consultant will reconsider their recommendations.

“The redevelopment of this area of town is important to all of us and a chance to do something wonderful for the town.

“The Three Rs campaign group will be working to encourage a community-based solution that makes the most of the heritage of the area without over-commercialisation.”

Tick-box “consultations”

“Consultations are often a legal requirement for government departments – but this sometimes means they are formulaic and ineffective. In an extract from his report, Creating a democracy for everyone: strategies for increasing listening and engagement by government, Jim Macnamara (University of Technology Sydney/ LSE) looks at some of the failings of government consultation, and the problems with one NHS consultation [NHS Mandate public consultation conducted in October 2015] in particular.”

Exmouth Water Sports Centre: Grenadier’s three days of consultation announced

Grenadier is holding consultation events at Ocean in Queen’s Drive on October 21 and 25, between 9am and 5pm, and on November 1 between 5pm and 9pm.

It says the proposed scheme would provide training and changing facilities alongside an outdoor events space and eateries, and is expected to provide services throughout the year.

The initial plans have been called “uninspiring” and protestors note that the illustrations do not show the Queens Drive road diversion as described by EDDC.

“’More transparency is needed about big decisions affecting our NHS’ “

“Eddie Duller OBE, a director at Healthwatch Oxfordshire, the county’s watchdog on health and social services matters, asks why the authorities are not more open about the big changes ahead

IT may sound bizarre but the Information Commissioner’s Office, which is the UK’s independent authority set up to promote openness by public bodies, appears to be saying it is alright to plan changes to health and social care in Oxfordshire and neighbouring counties in secret.

At least, that is my interpretation of a ruling as a result of Healthwatch Oxfordshire’s attempt to find out what was happening in the biggest health and social services shake-up for many years.

We raised the query in July last year under the Freedom of Information Act with the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG), which has been tasked by the NHS to save money and change the way services are delivered.

The main reason for this was that a new authority was introduced by the NHS: the Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West (BOB) area, which was supposed to create savings by joining up services from several areas.

Secondly, our view was – and is – that the public should have been involved earlier in the detail of the plans.

However, our request was turned down by the OCCG on the grounds that ‘releasing the information into the public domain at this time would be likely to inhibit the ability of public authority staff and others involved to express themselves openly, honestly and completely…..’

But what really got me going was the fact that the OCCG claimed that the new BOB organisation was not a statutory organisation and therefore the Freedom of Information Act did not apply.

That means that BOB could – and still can – take decisions in secret. I still think that is wrong.

They appear to want their cake and eat it by claiming it is not a statutory authority but at the same time giving it enormous powers to change the health service over a large area of the country.

The final version of the plan was published and the first explanations were made available just before Christmas last year – six months after we asked for information.

The Information Commissioner’s Office backed up the OCCG just a few days ago, 14 months after we queried their secrecy.

In effect it rather belatedly backed up the OCCG by saying it was alright to consider matters in secret as long as the proposals were published at a later date.

So what was the problem in giving out the information earlier?

When it was finally published the BOB transformation plan, which includes Oxfordshire, promised that there would be “meaningful engagement and consultation activity on services, such as those at the Horton General Hospital in Banbury and community hospitals in Berkshire West to help inform commissioning of future services”.

So why did it take so long to get round to it? Why not involve the public earlier?

The outcome of some of the changes in services at the Horton is that the question over the downgrading of the maternity department has been referred to the Secretary of State for Health after pleas from thousands of people to keep it as a consultant led service were ignored, and there is still no detail about what is to happen to the rest of the hospital site.

In effect the resulting judicial review is holding up the whole of the other services referred to in the first phase of consultation, although some of them are not contentious.

I hope the OCCG will learn from this and tell the public what it is thinking about in relation to the rest of the county much sooner.

In fact, now would do.

They should, in my view, form advisory bodies in each market town and Oxford as they did when creating the new “health campus” in Henley so that local people can have a greater say in designing the services.

It is an opportunity to involve the public through voluntary organisations and GP practices participation groups among others.

The BOB plan talked about the risks involved in changing the services, among them public sensitivity and cynicism.

It says grandly that “people view the programme as a money saving exercise which has no positive effect on health services in their community. “

It adds: “Stakeholders need to be openly engaged and involved in the process so that they are able to develop a proper understanding and can become ambassadors for the programme.”

I think it follows that if they practised what they preached and told us what is going on at an earlier stage they would stand more chance of getting a reasoned reaction and discussion for a plan which may have some potential merits.”

“Tories block recording concerns over biggest ever planned health service cuts in Devon”

Oh, how different it will be if (when) Tories lose control of DCC. We will then hear Twiss and his party colleagues saying EXACTLY what Claire Wright is saying!

Party politics sucks. More Independents needed – urgently.

From the blog of Claire Wright:

“.. And the County Solicitor will be called to address the committee to remind it of its responsibilities.

Devon County Council conservatives blocked my proposal yesterday to record significant concerns over the biggest cuts facing Devon’s health service in living memory.

Sonja Manton from NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group gave an update on the plans to slash around £500m by 2020, as part of Devon’s Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP).

The county’s STP is one of 44 across the country and is the government’s main programme of major cost cutting and centralisation in the NHS, to stem a £30bn shortfall by 2020.

I asked a number of questions mainly on staffing, budgets and buildings, along the following lines:

What are the vacancies and how do you plan to fill them and when do you plan to make redundancies (which has been previously hinted at)?

The answer was woolly (and no amount of pushing would encourage Dr Manton to reveal more). It contained no information on numbers, but she did mention that there is a 30 per cent turnover rate across Devon, in home care staff and that 75 per cent of the NHS budget is spent on staffing.

Next I asked whether pregnant women would still have a genuine choice where to give birth, as three community maternity units at Okehampton, Tiverton and Honiton were set to close (two have already closed temporarily due to staffing issues).

The answer was that the new service would meet national guidelines, so I pushed and asked whether pregnant women would be able to have a choice of a midwife led unit and how far they would have to travel. The answer was that there will be a new midwife led unit at the RD&E, adjacent to the consultant led unit.

So essentially women from all over Devon will soon have to either have a home birth, or travel to Exeter to give birth, whether that’s at a midwife led unit or a consultant led unit. There was a bit of a disagreement about me saying the current midwife led units were closed, despite the announcement having already been announced that this was the intention and two being temporarily closed due to staffing pressures.

Next I asked how many more beds were planned to be cut.

More prevarication.

I pushed. Was the figure of 600 bed cuts recognised, which was the broad figure in the first draft of the STP?

Yes this figure was recognised but it depended on a raft of issues.

Finally, I asked about the selling off of redundant estate. How many, where and when? Another non answer ensued. It was the next piece of work.

Entirely frustrated at the refusal to answer questions, not because I believe, the answers are not known but because there is a total refusal to get into any detail whatsoever, I expressed my complete frustration and disappointment at the answers. It made no difference.

Other councillors asked other questions.

At the end of the debate I proposed a resolution that the committee express significant concerns over the STP, its potential effect on patient care and the lack of transparency so far.

I called for urgent information on staffing, beds, buildings and budgets, in particular.

The proposal was seconded by Chair, Sara Randall Johnson, who added that a piece of work would be done on this.

Unfortunately, my wording appeared to upset the conservative group. Cllr Philip Sanders said he didn’t like that I had said the process appeared not to be transparent and wanted this word deleted. I replied that that it was entirely justified and refused to amend my proposal.

But fellow Conservative, Phil Twiss, wanted ANY mention of concerns deleted.

He said: “We don’t need the emotional language.”

Three years ago, Cllr Twiss reported me and this blog to the police cyber crime unit. You can read about it here, if you like –

Cllr Twiss then proposed that ALL my words were deleted, simply retaining the section that relating to a task group being set up.

This was voted through by the vast majority of the Conservative group.

Letting down every single resident in Devon who relies on the NHS.

Yes, I think that’s everyone.

Ambulance Trust response targets are failing and RD&E unable to discharge its patients in good time

Later in the meeting we were examining the performance review.

The South West Ambulance Trust which used to meet the national target of eight minutes largely without a difficulty, are now significantly under target. Only 59 per cent of calls were answered within eight minutes, across Northern, Eastern and Western Devon, in July of this year. The target is 75 per cent.

Lives are surely being put at risk. Certainly news of the failures are hitting the local media.

The narrative attached to the graph claimed that the reason was the rural nature of the South West. Yet the South West has been rural for years and this wasn’t a problem previously. Of course there have been cuts to budgets, and reductions in the number of ambulances so that is more likely to be the cause of the failure.

Problem with delayed discharges at the RD&E

Similarly, the RD&E was shown to have a significant problem with delayed discharges.

In June this year a daily average of 66 beds were occupied by patients who were well enough to go home.

It was obvious from the graph that the problem was clearly way out of kilter with other local NHS trusts.

This was largely to do with major staffing problems in the care sector, an officer confirmed.

of course it is these staff among others that we will rely on, to look after people in their own homes following community hospital bed cuts.

I proposed a resolution that the committee record its concerns at the ambulance response rates and the high level of delayed discharges at the RD&E and invite both trusts to the next committee meeting.

I had to argue with the chair that the proposal should retain the bit about recording concerns, before it was seconded by Cllr Brian Greenslade.

One of the Labour councillors was unhappy with me mentioning the RD&E at all in my resolution because she was chairing a piece of work looking at delayed discharges. I tried to point out that the resolution supported her work but she was adamant …

Then Cllr Twiss started up again. He said he didn’t like my wording and that I was simply making a statement that “looks good in the press.”

I reminded Cllr Twiss that the committee is legally constituted to scrutinise health services on behalf of the people and our job is to hold the health service to account. In fact such words had been used recently in a standards committee hearing minutes.

Anyone who is familiar with the basic requirements of an audit trail will recognise the importance of the committee recording concerns about service failures in this way.

I told Cllr Twiss that I intended to ask in the work programme agenda item, that the county solicitor attends the next committee meeting and outlines our responsibilities.

The final amendment removed my words about concerns about the RD&E’s delayed discharges but retained the words about the ambulance trust target failure.

So Ambulance Trust representatives will be invited to the next meeting.

I have certainly heard anecdotally that things are very challenging indeed within the Trust, with too few ambulances and low staff morale.

I duly asked in the final agenda item for the County Solicitor to attend the next meeting to remind the committee of its remit.

Some councillors appear to be in sore need of training.

Playing political games with health scrutiny resolutions is a dirty and unacceptable game.

NHS Property Services and buildings

Cllr Martin Shaw spoke to a report he submitted to the committee on this. The upshot will be that a sub group will examine the future of community hospital buildings.

The speaker itemised webcast can be viewed here –”

Reading BCouncil apologised for the error after objectors spotted a mistake on feedback form

Reading Borough Council (RBC) invited residents to give feedback after the Education Funding Agency (EFA) offered to invest £1.36m in exchange for five per cent of some school land it owns.

One objector, John Heaps, accused the council of manipulating the outcome by removing the ‘strongly disagree’ option from the online survey to add weight to the EFA’s proposal.

He claimed: “I have attended all of the action group meetings and the wording on the feedback forms has changed since the original consultation started.

“Negative responses have been altered and the council have changed their stance midway through the process.

By making this change, it allows them to say all consultation respondents agreed that the granting of the lease to the EFA would enhance the amenity value of the ground.

“It is a very serious offence and it is evidence that a governing body is manipulating a legally required consultation process.”

Residents were asked if the EFA offer would enhance the amenity value and the latest form gives three options, including ‘very likely, more likely and less likely’.

Mr Heaps said there was no way for people to strongly reject the EFA bid due to the absence of the ‘not likely’ option and accused the council of distorting the outcome of the consultation.

RBC cited ‘human error’ and apologised, adding: “A human imputing error on the website means the ‘less likely’ and ‘not likely’ options were accidentally combined into one option for people responding to question 2 of the online survey.

“To address this point, and any subsequent concerns raised, the Trustees will be asked to consider that all responses given to this question should be in the ‘not likely’ category.

“We apologise for the error and will of course advise Trustees of the error when reporting back the consultation results.”

Sidmouth Drill Hall ‘propaganda’

Owl says: starting a consultation by illustrating it with a detailed schematic plan of 5 storey buildings is asking for trouble – duh!

If you then go on to construct those 5 storey buildings, it would get very murky indeed!

A campaigner determined to see Sidmouth’s Drill Hall considered as part of any regeneration plans for Port Royal has slammed ‘propaganda’ from project leaders.

Mary Walden-Till’s research into the history of the eastern town has covered much of the same ground as the scoping study commissioned by landowners Sidmouth Town Council (STC) and East Devon District Council (EDDC).

Town clerk Christopher Holland and Councillor Jeff Turner sat down with the Herald in a bid to reassure residents nothing has yet been decided – but Ms Walden-Till took issue with several of the points they raised.

She raised: “I know that both Cllr Turner and Mr Holland are committed to doing what they think is the best for Sidmouth so I was very disappointed to read something in the Herald (‘Port Royal could see massive development – or nothing at all’) which appeared to be propaganda rather than unadorned fact.

“If we want the best outcome for the town, we all need to make sure we are not playing games, even accidentally. If they can’t avoid ‘spin’ then they can’t claim to be open-minded on the issue. It is a matter of fact that both of them are on record as being vehemently opposed to preserving the Drill Hall.

“If the starting point is that the Drill Hall must be demolished, then it has to be accepted that it is unlikely that a developer would be interested in such a small plot, so then the search begin for a way to make it worth a developer’s time.

As a designer, it is important to me to start a project with no preconceptions about what should be removed or retained in order to achieve the desired result.

“The scoping exercise consultants should have started from the same point, and we should be able to see that they had considered a range of ways of increasing what Port Royal can offer to the town.

“This development should be about the town and not about ways of making money for the district as a whole. The district has already benefitted from Sidmouth’s loss in far too many circumstances: for example the loss of Fortfield Hotel to expensive apartments, the Section 106 money from which went to the district not solely to Sidmouth, and the upcoming loss of the council jobs at the Knowle, moving employment from Sidmouth to other areas of the district.

“To suggest that reusing the Drill Hall will of necessity ‘take away from other users’ of Port Royal is clearly ridiculous. How would preserving what is there at the same time reduce what is there?”

In a joint statement, Mr Holland and Cllr Turner said: “STC and EDDC would like to reiterate the aims of the scoping study. It is to research, investigate and report on the opportunities and constraints of improving the whole important Port Royal area.

“The councils have yet to receive the independent consultant’s Scoping Study to even begin discussing issues such as detailed designs, which would come further along in the project.

“The study is the start of a process that would, if supported by the councils, involve a much more detailed visioning for future consideration.

“To champion a single building at this stage which is a small part of a much larger area and be in constant opposition to a simple study which only aims to help inform councillors is not helpful.

“Members of both councils will decide how and if to proceed once the scoping study report is presented to them.”