Devon County Council projected overspend (ie underfund) – £32 million

The budget position in the report outlines:

Adult Care and Health services are forecast to overspend by £6.7m

Adult Care Operations is forecasting to overspend by £6.6m, primarily the result of residential and nursing price and volume pressures, as client numbers are 125 higher than budgeted for

Adult Commissioning and Health is forecast to underspend by £347,000

Mental Health is forecasting an overspend of £412,000, with pressures being experienced from higher client numbers than the budgeted level

Children’s services are forecasting an overspending of £6.6m.

Children’s Social Care is forecast to overspend by £4.4m.
The total overspending on children’s placements is forecast to be £1.3m due to a lack of sufficiency in the residential market is leading to young people being placed in alternative settings with high cost support packages

Disabled Children’s Services are forecast to overspend by just under £1.9m, although a significant proportion of this forecast is associated with one exceptionally high cost placement.

The Atkinson Secure Children’s Home is forecasting an overspend of £203,000 due to recruitment and retention issues at the Home having had an adverse impact upon occupancy levels

The non-Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) element of Education and Learning is forecasting an overspend of £2.3m

The DSG High Needs Block, Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) is forecasting a funding shortfall of £18.7m for the current financial year. There have been a further 33 placements since month 4 within Independent Special Schools, taking the average projection for the year to 568 placements compared to a budgeted level of 430.

Highways, Infrastructure Development and Waste is forecasting an underspend of £402,000

Highways maintenance, Network Management, Street Lighting and Infrastructure Development are forecasting an overspend of £545,000, primarily the result of expected income not being generated until the start of 2020/21

Communities, Public Health, Environment and Prosperity (COPHEP) are forecasting a small underspend of £4,000

Corporate Services are forecasting an overspend of £2.3m
Non- service items are forecast to underspend by £9.9m”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/depressing-budget-report-shows-devon-3516062

Tell Devon County Council what you think (nicely, now!)

Devon Community Insight Survey

Devon residents are being asked what matters most in a survey run by Devon County Council.

The Community Insight Survey asks about experiences of a range of services and the County Council’s strategic aims.

It also asks questions about Council Tax increases, community resources, if people have good access to green spaces, and if the council’s decision make sense.

A council spokesman said: “We are committed to building a Devon where everyone can live their lives well, and to do this we need to understand what matters most to you and where you experience difficulties. The results will be shared across services and used to inform budget decisions and how services are provided in future.”

The survey can be filled in online at

https://forms.office.com/Pages/ResponsePage.aspx?id=gzehjWjLP0S7S5l_d_1b-3k2zoamfoJKgcKfgFq7GXBUQ0lXOFI1MVlPQkQ3N1Q0NUZPWFM1R1VENy4u

Local Enterprise Partnership: DCC scrutiny committee in crisis?

Comment as post:

“This positive change has long been requested by East Devon Alliance DCC Councillor Martin Shaw (Colyton and Seaton). See …

On 13 October I made a comment on the Heart of the South West (HotSW) Joint Scrutiny Committee meeting scheduled for the 17 October. I pointed out that attendance at this essential exercise in democracy had steadily fallen through the year from eleven to just five councillors [correction, should read six] and added my opinion that this scrutiny committee has all the appearance of being in crisis.

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2019/10/13/local-enterprise-partnership-scrutiny-laid-bare-and-a-chance-to-see-for-the-scrutiny-not-working-for-yourself/

Sadly this view seems to have been confirmed from the October 17 meeting.

From the minutes and associated documents of this Joint Scrutiny meeting of 17 October attendance is recorded as follows, down again to a bare quorum of five:

(https://democracy.devon.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=3572&x=1)

Present:
Councillor Jerry Brook Devon County Council (Chair)
Councillor Richard Hosking Devon County Council
Councillor Julian Brazil Devon County Council
Councillor Gareth Derrick Plymouth City Council
Councillor Barrie Spencer South Hams District Council

Apologies:
Councillor Ray Bloxham Devon County Council
Councillor Mike Lewis Somerset County Council
Councillor Jonny Morris Plymouth City Council

Absent:
Councillor Rod Williams Somerset County Council (Vice-Chair)
Councillor Ann Brown Somerset County Council
Councillor Simon Coles Somerset County Council
Councillor Lee Howgate Torbay Council
Councillor Karen Kennedy Torbay Council
Councillor Norman Cavill Taunton Deane Borough Council
Councillor Richard Chesterton Mid Devon District Council
Councillor Ian Dyer Sedgemoor District Council

[Only 16 councillors are listed though the Terms of Reference of the Scrutiny Committee sets the number at 17 – see Appendix 1 of the October briefing pack]

Three of these attendees: Councillors, Hoskins, Brazil and Derrick were also among the six attending the previous meeting in June. These Councillors deserve credit for taking their scrutiny responsibility seriously where the majority clearly have not. Note that not a single Councillor from Somerset attended. This is democratic deficit writ large.

As reported by Owl, the meeting did agreed that future meetings be webcast to continue to increase transparency of the Committee; and that public participation be adopted at future Committee meetings in line with Devon County Council’s public participation scheme. This is something that should have been included at the beginning but nevertheless represents progress.

In my comment I conjectured a number of reasons why members might find attendance to be a waste of their time and, mischievously, raised the rhetorical question as to whether HoTSW might be using creative administrative devises to make scrutiny difficult or seem unimportant. So it is interesting to read, from the minutes that among the topics discussed were the following:

1. the challenge of actively scrutinising the LEP when funds had already been allocated and projects begun;
2. the need for Scrutiny to have sight of policies before they are agreed and implemented by the LEP, to add value and effectiveness to the governance process;
3. the requirement of the Committee to scrutinise strategic documents and the cost effectiveness of the LEP.

These are excellent questions which would certainly have benefitted from members of the public being able to follow the details through webcasting. We now need to know the HotSW’s response.”

DCC opens up its Local Enterprise Partnership Scrutiny Commmittee to public scrutiny and participation

This positive change has long been requested by East Devon Alliance DCC Councillor Martin Shaw (Colyton and Seaton).

See minutes below for a full account of discussion at the meeting – about what is working well and (more importantly and interestingly) what is not:

https://democracy.devon.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=3572&x=1

“Seaside residents dominate personal debt league in England and Wales”

Owl says: Has anyone seen policies to reverse this trend from our Local Enterprise Partnership? Or even from EDDC? Or DCC?

Hint: development in Exmouth is the “traditional” kind the article points out as leading to problems.

“Seaside towns and cities dominate the list of areas with the highest numbers of people getting into serious difficulties with debt, according to new figures.

Scarborough, the largest resort on the Yorkshire coast, ranked second out of 347 local authorities in England and Wales for personal insolvencies, while Torbay in Devon – which includes the town of Torquay – came third, said the accountancy firm UHY Hacker Young.

Plymouth, on the south coast of Devon, was ranked fourth, while Blackpool was in sixth place.

However, it was the city of Stoke-on-Trent in the Midlands which had the highest rate of personal insolvencies, recording just over 51 per 10,000 adults in 2018. The national average was 25, said the firm.

The insolvency rate includes personal bankruptcies, debt relief orders and individual voluntary arrangements….

Other coastal locations or regions featured in the firm’s “top 20” included Weymouth and Portland in Dorset, which includes the resort of Weymouth, which was in 12th place (39.6 insolvencies per 10,000 adults); the Isle of Wight, in 13th place (39.3 per 10,000); Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, in 14th place (39.2 per 10,000); Cornwall, in 17th place (38.5 per 10,000); and Hastings in East Sussex, in 19th place (38 per 10,000).

The accountancy firm said many coastal towns outside south-east England had struggled to replace their traditional industries with faster growth sectors such as financial services and technology. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/oct/21/seaside-residents-dominate-personal-debt-league-in-england-and-wales?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Local Enterprise Partnership “scrutiny” laid bare (and a chance to see for the scrutiny not working for yourself)

Comment as post:

“Heart of the South West (HotSW) Joint Scrutiny Committee

meets on

Thursday October 17
at County Hall 2.15 pm

(public may attend but not speak) to consider, amongst other things, a review of its own scrutiny performance and how it could be improved. This Joint Scrutiny Committee is the nearest thing we have to democratic oversight of our Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), HoTSW. Judge how good it is for yourselves. The Joint Committee comprises 17 councillors drawn from just nine of the 17 odd Devon and Somerset local and unitary authorities. Political proportionality only applies to the four nominees from each of the two County Councils.

https://democracy.devon.gov.uk/documents/g3572/Public%20reports%20pack%2017th-Oct-2019%2014.15%20Heart%20of%20the%20South%20West%20HotSW%20Local%20Enterprise%20Partnersh.pdf?T=10

FIRST A RECAP & SOME SCENE SETTING.

In 2010 the government started approving bids from self-selecting, business led, Local Enterprise Partnerships. LEPs were encouraged to make ambitious plans to run their local economies and bid for central government growth development funds, effectively kick starting English Devolution. HotSW is the selected LEP covering Devon and Somerset. By 2014 HotSW had agreed, in secret and with no scrutiny, a growth strategy with government. Nothing was openly published until 2015. This growth strategy is built around doubling the local economy in 20 years (3.53% annual growth rate) by increasing productivity and population growth. The targets are wildly unrealistic and therefore undeliverable.

This government devolution experiment has come in for severe criticism from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) (e.g. 2016): “It is alarming that LEPs are not meeting basic standards of governance and transparency, such as disclosing conflicts of interest to the public….LEPs are led by the private sector, and stakeholders have raised concerns that they are dominated by vested interests that do not properly represent their business communities.”

As a result, the Department for Communities and Local Government commissioned a “Review of Local Enterprise Partnership Governance and Transparency”, Led by Mary Ney. This review made 17 recommendations (2017) to improve governance, accountability and scrutiny of LEPs. Although the Department accepted these recommendations, they adopted a “light touch” approach, leaving LEPs and Local Authorities to work out the details for themselves.

Not surprisingly the PAC concluded this year (June 2019):

“We welcome the improvements to LEP governance and transparency since we last examined these issues, but there is still a long way to go for all LEPs to reach the rigorous standards we expect. We remain concerned that LEP boards are not yet representative of their local areas and business communities and that local scrutiny and accountability arrangements are not strong enough considering the significant sums of public funding that LEPs manage.”

NOW TO THE HOTSW SCRUTINY REVIEW ITSELF.

First thing to note is that of the 17 members of this Joint Scrutiny Committee, only eleven attended the very first scrutiny meeting last November. This attendance dropped to ten in February and then to just five in June, with Devon County Councillor R Bloxham for Broadsclyst, being amongst the absentees. This is the bare minimum for a quorum. This scrutiny committee has all the appearance of being in crisis. Perhaps members feel out of their depth scrutinising regional economic issues? Perhaps members feel inhibited from diving deep where all past HoTSW decisions have been rubber stamped? Maybe they have been warned not to undermine the LEP for fear of losing central funds? Could HotSW be confusing them with detail (oldest administrative trick in the book)? There is a plea for shorter presentations up for discussion.

Scrutiny Committee Members have canvassed views from other County and Unitary Authorities to try to understand their Scrutiny arrangements for LEPs, and have concluded that the HotSW arrangements are “more developed than in many authorities”. “Current arrangements are having some impact but have further to go.” A report proposes some changes to strengthen the transparency and quality of scrutiny (e.g. to adopt the Devon County practice for public participation, web casting, public attendance and speaking) and minor tinkering with the Terms of Reference to allow them to be more pro-active.

For discussion is this list of how to judge their Scrutiny success over the next year, with only three meetings to do it in:

1. Positive and impactful relationship between Scrutiny and the LEP, evidenced by change or amendments to policy or decisions.
2. Being cited in advance of priorities, decisions and strategy arising for the LEP
3. Clarity on the Chair of the Board and LEP’s ambitions and how Scrutiny can add value particularly to investment strategy.
4. Representing the ambition and concerns of the South-West’s residents
5. Demonstrable contribution to productivity and growth by the LEP
6. Increasing democracy in regional government
7. Scrutiny to build a culture of learning and improvement, taking account of best practice nationally

THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF THINGS TO SCRUTINISE.

At the February 2019 meeting the annual HotSW performance review, commissioned from Ash Futures, was presented to this Scrutiny Committee. It gave an early view of progress already faltering.

https://democracy.devon.gov.uk/documents/g3570/Public%20reports%20pack%2014th-Feb-2019%2014.15%20Heart%20of%20the%20South%20West%20HotSW%20Local%20Enterprise%20Partnersh.pdf?T=10

“…….the review of economic data leads to the overall conclusion that the HoSW economy, at best, continues to track the ‘baseline’ growth scenario. That is, there is no firm evidence that it is achieving either ‘strong’ or ‘transformational’ growth as aspired to in the Strategic Economic Plan.” [Baseline – continuing to fall behind UK average].

“The plan outcome measures and objectives in the current economic environment do not currently look achievable, certainly in the short-term. …..It is our view that some of the outcome targets, particularly those associated with the ‘transformational’ target, now look very aspirational in their nature.”

“Currently, there is no ‘feedback loop’ back to the Strategic Investment Panel to develop its understanding of ‘what has worked well, and what not’ with investments made….. A better understanding of how investments have developed would lead to better long-term decision-making.”

Following that, the LEPs covering Cornwall, Devon and Somerset had an opportunity to submit evidence at the beginning of August to the Treasury Committee Inquiry into regional imbalances in the UK economy:

The preface to the evidence reads: “We have put forward two submissions; one on behalf of Cornwall Council and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership and another on behalf of the Heart of the South West Joint Committee and the HotSW Local Enterprise Partnership representing Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay.”

“We are submitting this joint letter as being neighbouring areas we have similar policy asks which the committee might find helpful to have highlighted as well as the nuances that are described in our two responses. There is no clear definition of what constitutes a region and we believe these two documents provide detailed insight into the complexity of this subject.”

Cornwall then followed this introduction with a detailed response for their part of the region comprising 4,342 words and four graphs but the detailed HotSW response was left blank. My understanding is that Local Authorities decided/were instructed to feed inputs to HotSW, stand back and let HotSW take the lead. Unfortunately, any County inputs have got “lost in the post” and the only organisation that took the time, trouble and effort to answer questions raised in the Inquiry terms of reference from the perspective of Devon’s economy was the East Devon Alliance.

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/treasury-committee/regional-imbalances-in-the-uk/written/103800.html

WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

Philip Aldrick, economics editor The Times, summarised why the Treasury will become more interested in regional funding in an article he wrote in 2018:

“….One theory doing the rounds is that the Treasury wants to know if its business support schemes are working. A crunch is coming. England’s 39 local enterprise partnerships [now reduced to 38- one went rogue], designed to boost growth, are funded largely with EU grants. For 2014 to 2020, they secured €6.51 billion of European Structural and Investment funds. Of that, €2.5 billion was allocated to “enhancing the competitiveness of small and medium enterprises”, about a tenth of which went to less developed regions.”

“After Brexit, now formally delayed until 2021 after yesterday’s transition deal, the money will no longer make the round trip via Brussels. It will come directly from Westminster, bringing with it more political accountability. If the money is not driving productivity, which it patently isn’t, the Treasury may decide the financial medicine could be administered more effectively.”

And the PAC in the 2019 report (referred to above) picks up the same theme:

“Despite spending up to £12 billion of taxpayers’ money [between 2015/16 and 2020/21], the Department has no real understanding of the impact which the Local Growth Fund has had on local economic growth. The Department chose not to set quantifiable objectives for Growth Deals. Its assertion that every £1 of local growth funding could generate £4.81 in benefits is an unsubstantiated estimate. Despite receiving quarterly performance data from LEPs, the Department has not used this to build up an understanding of the impact that local growth funding has had nationally, nor has it measured what value for money LEPs have delivered so far.”

Spending vast sums of tax payers’ money without strong scrutiny and without demonstrable value for money isn’t going to continue. Treasury watchers will be familiar with their scepticism over future plans that lack realism. Ambition not only has to be deliverable but be seen to be delivered.”

“To save on teaching costs, school heads are increasingly busting the 30-child limit — illegal for pupils under seven” [including Broadclyst]

“Broadclyst school [photograph from article above]in Devon has a specially built classroom where 67 children are taught simultaneously. Though unions say such class sizes are detrimental to learning, the school’s head teacher insists pupils are offered an “excellent education”.

It looks more like a lecture theatre than a primary school classroom. Welcome to Broadclyst Community Primary School in Devon, where year 6 pupils are taught in a class of 67 — sometimes with just one teacher.

A Sunday Times investigation has found that cash-strapped primary schools are packing pupils into giant classes to boost their budgets. A school receives between £3,500 and £5,000 a year for each child. More than 559,000 primary pupils were taught in “super-size classes” averaging more than 30 children last year, compared with 501,000 five years earlier, according to our analysis of official data.

In parts of northwest England — including Oldham, Bury, Trafford and Tameside — a quarter of primary children are being taught in such big classes, as per-pupil funding encourages heads to fill their classrooms.

It is illegal to teach children under the age of seven in classes of more than 30 pupils, but there are no such rules for older children. But we have found that nearly 5% of pupils aged 5-7, roughly 73,000 children, were taught in classes of more than 30 last year. Some heads use just one teacher for occasional classes of more than 60 pupils. Broadclyst has one of the highest average class sizes, 42, and at times teaches 67 older children together in a specially built room.

Teaching unions and experts have always warned that such big class sizes damage children’s education. But this weekend Jonathan Bishop, Broadclyst’s head teacher, defended the policy, insisting that the school, about five miles northeast of Exeter, offered an excellent education, and class size “was not the big factor” in a good-quality education.

The school is rated as “outstanding” by the regulator Ofsted.

Bishop said: “I do not think 30 is a magic number to get better-quality education. It is not class size that dictates the quality of education. Our year 6 classroom has got 67 children in one room. There are times when one teacher teaches those 67 children. Is that wrong? Of course it is not wrong.

“Our year 6 classroom is designed like a lecture theatre: I can seat 67 children in there. I know I will be public enemy No 1 by saying this.”

Experts warned that the UK was moving inexorably towards the giant classes found in parts of Asia.”

Source: Times (pay wall)