“Devon County Councillors have just given themselves a 15 per cent pay rise”

“Devon County Councillors have voted to give themselves an immediate 15 per cent hike in their allowances.

The independent remuneration panel had recommended that a rise from the current figure of £10,970 to £12,607 to be implemented by the council.

No rise in allowances for members has taken place in the last nine years.

The allowance for the leader of the council will go up from £25,000 to £31,518. …

The leader of the council, Cllr John Hart said that since the Conservatives had come to power in 2009, over a million pounds had been saved already as they had reduced the number of committee places and that there had been report after report from the independent remuneration panel recommending this.

He said: “This report came to us in 2016 and we all bottled it and didn’t recommended putting it up before the election in 2017. But this is the time to do it and link any future raise in allowance to raises in staff pay.”

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Alan Connett, said that no-one disagreed with the proposals but the money for this wasn’t in the budget and that by putting up allowances straight away, it won’t change a thing in terms of how diverse the council will be. …

… Of the 60 current county councillors, 52 of them are over the age of the 50, and 15 are aged more than 70. There are just three councillors who are younger than 40 and none under the age of 30.”


Is one Devon unitary council being created by stealth?

DCC Leader John Hart said on Spotlight this evening, that the reason Devon isn’t going for unitisation is that the government usually insists on 0.5m population for a unitary council and so Devon would need 2 unitary councils and, whichever way you cut it, that would result in one rich council and one poor council. (Presumably he means a north/south divide or east/west).

(No worries, Mr Hart, ALL councilswill be very poor, very soon!)

BUT WAIT! Isn’t “Greater Exeter” coming in close to 500,000 population?

Exeter – approx 120,000
Mid Devon – approx 80,000
Teignbridge – approx 125,000
East Devon – approx 140,000

YES – it is big enough to be unitary and is developing an over-arching “Strategic Plan”.

Are we getting a “Greater Exeter” unitary council by stealth?

[Somerset] “Tory council at risk of bankruptcy calls for funding system fix”

Owl says: “Hissing” in the wind! Our unelected and unaccountable Local Enterprise Partnership now controls the vast amount of money in both counties!

“A Tory-controlled local authority has called on ministers to fix a “broken” system of council funding after it emerged its deteriorating finances mean it is at serious risk of going bust.

Somerset county council has been told that large overspends on children’s social services, coupled with reduced government funding and the erosion of its reserves, have left its finances “in a very challenging position”.

A formal peer review says any failure to meet its ambitious financial savings targets for the current year would leave the council at risk of being unable to set a balanced budget within months – in effect leaving it at risk of insolvency.

The county, which has already announced unpopular plans to close two-thirds of its Sure Start children’s centres, more than half of its libraries and make big reductions to its learning disability services, must now find further cuts.

There has been heightened concern over the sustainability of local authority finances since Northamptonshire county council declared effective bankruptcy in February. It was subsequently taken over by government commissioners.

A spokesperson for Somerset county council said: “There are clearly pressures on our budgets, as there is on local authority budgets up and down the country as government funding falls and demand grows.

“The recent peer review report found many positives and areas of success. It also concluded that we understand the financial challenges we face and that we can meet them.

“We believe the system by which local government is funded is broken and call on the government to address this as a priority as part of its fair funding review [of local government finance].”

Somerset says it is confident that it will not follow Northamptonshire into insolvency. Despite serious challenges – including a target of £17m in cuts for children’s social care this year – it says it is committed to meeting savings targets.

But the review makes it clear that the county has struggled to deliver planned savings for two years, and has been reliant on reserves to patch up its budgets. “For the last two years only 65% of agreed savings have been delivered and whilst there may be specific reasons for this, this level of delivery is simply unsustainable in the future.”

Somerset, which has an annual budget of around £316m, has made around £130m of savings since 2010. It believes the forthcoming green paper into social care funding and the fair funding review hold the key to its survival.

The National Audit Office warned this year that several councils were using up “rainy day” reserves to prop up services. It estimated up to 15 councils are at risk of going bust when their reserves are exhausted.

Jane Lock, the leader of Somerset’s opposition Liberal Democrat group, blamed the council’s predicament on its decision to freeze council tax for six years after 2010, despite swingeing national cuts in funding, and at a time when austerity measures were increasing demand on services.

She said: “The reason Somerset has got to here is quite simply the political ideology that they would refuse to put up council tax. That’s left a £26m hole in the budget.”

Simon Edwards, the director of the County Councils Network, said: “County authorities face a toxic cocktail of having rising demand for services, being the lowest funded upper-tier councils, and the impact of having the sharpest reductions in government funding by the end of the decade.”

He added: “With demand continuing to rise amid funding reductions, the reality is that councils of all sizes and colours will face similar situations in the future, unless a sustainable solution is found by government.”


EDDC Independents lead call for action on local health provision

Owl can’t quite see why Tory Councillor Allen felt the need to table his amendment – perhaps he felt Independent councillors were rather too Independent and therefore needed a dash of Tory policy! Now we just have to hope that new Leader Thomas doesn’t go and do exactly the opposite of what was resolved when he attends to DCC health scrutiny meetings – as Diviani notoriously did last year.

“A motion calling for the community hospitals which have lost beds to be maintained as health hubs, that services and clinics should be moved out of Exeter to local community hospitals and that more outpatient services should be provided in each community hospital was discussed by East Devon District Council at their meeting last week.

Proposing the motion, Cllr Marianne Rixson [EDA, Independent] said that health hubs in local areas need to be supported by the Council.

She added that the need for less travelling and difficult local bus services needed to be taken into consideration and that if place-based care was to be effective then the level of out-patient services need to be increased overall or at least maintained in every town.

She was supported by Cllr Val Ranger [Independent] who added that those people discharged early from hospital, children and elderly living with long-term health conditions should be able to access out-patient services locally in every community.

Councillors voted for an amendment, proposed by Cllr Mike Allen [Conservative], that said that this Council resolves to welcome the proposal of the Devon CCG’s to develop placed-based health care where strong evidence suggested that it would deliver high-quality patient care and sustainable services.

It added: “However, due to lack of supporting clinical evidence and clear future planning, the Council has strongly opposed closure and removal of community hospital beds and hospital-based services throughout East Devon.

“All efforts are made, in consultation with local communities, to ensure the existing estate of community hospitals was retained for health care purposes, where appropriate, the potential development of ‘Health Hubs’ was investigated, and council members received from the Clinical Commissioning Group a review of service changes (bed-based to home/community based care) made during 2017/2018 in East Devon, to include clinical evidence highlighting levels of patient safety and outcomes achieved and an evidence-based forward plan of proposed changes to health services in East Devon, for initial discussion at a future Cabinet.

After the meeting, Cllr Martin Shaw [DCC East Devon Alliance], said that he has written to Cllr Ian Thomas, who is due to become the new leader of the council on May 16, asking for assurances that each of the hospitals which has lost its beds (Axminster, Honiton, Ottery and Seaton), as well as Exmouth and Sidmouth, to be kept open and that a formal public consultation in the affected town and surrounding area should a closure of any community hospital, involving substantial relocation of outpatient services, be proposed.”


Unitisation … today Somerset, tomorrow? Will the (very fat) turkeys vote for Christmas?

“Scrapping Somerset councils ‘may save £28m a year’ ”

“Abolishing all six local authorities in Somerset could save £18m to £28m each year, the county council leader says.

Conservative David Fothergill has asked for work to begin to look at how a unitary arrangement could work.

The plan would see several single-tier authorities – or one – replacing local councils including the county council.

The idea has been met with mixed responses with one councillor saying it would mean getting “turkeys to vote for Christmas”.

Mr Fothergill said: “At a time of unprecedented financial pressures on all councils we are all looking at different ways to be more efficient, make savings and protect the front-line services that our residents value so much.

“I believe that we owe it to our residents to look at this option too.

“I want start the ball rolling on work to establish the benefits and costs of such a change so that we can all make an informed decision as to whether a unitary model is the right way to go.”

News ‘a bombshell’

He said savings from introducing a single-authority would include £500,000 per year by moving from five chief executives to one, and about £1m per year by reducing the number of councillors covering the county by about half from the current 300.

Analysis: Ruth Bradley – BBC Somerset

While it’s relatively unusual for councillors to decide to get rid of their own authorities, it’s not unheard of.

In fact Somerset has been looking to the example of its near-neighbours to see just how it could work here – and how much money it could save.
Wiltshire became a unitary authority in 2007 – the same time as Cornwall – merging four districts and a county council into what is now the biggest local authority in the West of England.

But that was in a different political era, pre-austerity rather than as a reaction to government cuts.

And next year Dorset is due to scrap its nine councils and set up two new unitaries.

Interestingly it has managed to achieve this with near-consensus from all the councils involved – something which Somerset will be keen to emulate, given the fractured nature of the last attempt at this here in 2007.
Buckinghamshire was also signed off by the government earlier this year to go unitary at the same time as Dorset.

Somerset is hoping to have its model in place by the 2021 local elections.

Other savings would come through reducing the number of HR, customer services and finance teams, and reducing the number of IT and utilities contracts and transport costs.

The Conservative leaders of West Somerset and Taunton Deane said they were prepared to discuss the idea, while the Liberal Democrat leader of South Somerset described the news as “a bombshell” and said “none of us [district council leaders] want to go down this route but we have to put the people or Somerset first”.

Independent county councillor, Mike Rigby, said he was pleased with the plan and “had been calling for this for years”.

“It’s going to require some turkeys to vote for Christmas so it’s not in the bag yet, though I suspect the momentum will become irresistible,” he added.
There were protests outside parliament in London in 2007 when the Liberal Democrats made a similar proposal.”


East Devon Alliance Conference, 26 May 2018 – details and how to book a free place

Blog of Councillor Martin Shaw – East Devon Alliance, Devon County Council:

Time for a Change’ in East Devon

East Devon Alliance holding conference to bring together everyone fighting on health, environment, planning and other issues

Saturday 26th May, 10-1.30, Beehive, Honiton. A must-attend event for everyone who would like to see a change in local politics. If you’d like to come, please book your place via this link (there is no charge). I hope to see you there.


All across East Devon people are worried about their HEALTH, their HOMES and their JOBS. Never has it been more important to involve yourself with local democracy in your district.. YOU CAN MAKE THE DIFFERENCE.

The EAST DEVON ALLIANCE is trying to help with all of this, an umbrella group of Independent people, who since 2015 have won 7 district council seats and 1 county seat. The EDA is free from the negative influence of national parties who – at East Devon District Council – have acquired the arrogant habits of a Conservative one-party state.

This conference is for YOU. Speakers will include County Councillors CLAIRE WRIGHT and MARTIN SHAW, and PAM BARRETT, Chair of the Independent Buckfastleigh Town Council and regional expert on transforming democracy from the bottom up.

In two sessions you will be able to hear our experience and then CONTRIBUTE your own personal views:

a) how did the democratic deficit in East Devon happen? Or – the problem.

b) what can we do about it through democracy in our parishes, towns and district. Or – the solution.

Please come. We are all volunteers but if we band together now to fight for hospitals, homes and jobs we have a chance to change how our local area is run.

Parking: nearest is Lace Walk. 2 minute walk. If full, New Street, 5 mins.”

‘Time for a Change’ in East Devon – @EDevonAlliance holding conference to bring together everyone fighting on health, environment, planning and other issues

“Devon councillors allowances set to rise by an inflation-busting 15 per cent”

“An inflation-busting 15 per cent hike in allowances for Devon County councillors has been proposed.

The independent remuneration panel has recommended that a rise from the current figure of £10,970 to £12,607 to be implemented by the council. It comes as no rise in allowances for members have taken place in the last nine years.

… Devon County Council’s procedures committee on Wednesday morning voted to recommend to full council that the 15 per cent rise should be implemented, but councillors from all parties will be given a free vote when it goes before them. … “

[There then follows a long justification from a Tory councillor about why this is acceptable and a table of the new allowances]