“Harsh winter deepens pothole crisis for struggling councils”

“Councils are losing the battle against potholes, it is claimed today as the number of cars damaged by crumbling roads has reached a three-year high.

Figures from the RAC show that 4,091 call-outs were made over three months for damage commonly attributed to poor road surfaces including damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension and distorted wheels. The statistics, recorded between April and June, were the highest for the three-month period since 2015.

The RAC warned that local roads had been left in a terrible condition by freezing weather at the start of the year when the “Beast from the East” struck. Critics claimed that roads were already in a poor state because of years of underfunding and a backlog of repairs. The Asphalt Industry Alliance claimed in April that £9.3 billion was needed to bring all roads up to scratch.

The government is investing about £1 billion a year in local roads and said recently that another £100 million was being spent to repair routes affected by the severe winter weather.

The RAC has called for 2p a litre to be invested from fuel duty into local roads, in addition to existing budgets, saying that over a ten-year period it would give councils the money needed to “eliminate the backlog in repairs and preventative maintenance”.

David Bizley, the RAC’s chief engineer, said: “Councils have been working hard to fix potholes and general road surface degradation but despite further emergency funding from central government their budgets are even more stretched than in previous years.

“Our figures demonstrate they are not winning the battle and as a result the safety of too many drivers, cyclists and motorcyclists is being put at risk.”

He added: “Central government must now consider how we can develop a long-term plan to improve the condition of our local roads. We urge the Department for Transport to work with the Treasury to ring-fence a proportion of fuel duty receipts over a sustained period to fund this.”

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said that councils were being given more than £6 billion over six years for local roads. “This funding includes a record £296 million through the pothole action fund: enough to fix around six million potholes,” she said.”

Source: Times, pay wall

Claire Wright concerned about unpaid carers – asks for them to contact her

Could you imagine Swire being concerned about this – concerned, not just anodyne words.

“Some of Devon County Council’s Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee will visit Westbank League of Friends to hear from staff who support unpaid carers, later this month, following my proposal for a spotlight review into how unpaid carers who look after friends and family members are faring.

I have seen a confidential report of a focus group meeting that took place last year, which indicates that the 24 people in Devon who took part, are suffering from a lack of support, a lack of money and a lack of respite care….. many reported that their mental and physical health was suffering as a result.

I asked for the (anonymised) report to be published with the June health scrutiny papers, but this was refused as the focus group report was not ever intended to be made public and consent had not been given. Instead a rather more neutral version of the report was published, but as I told the committee, this did not reflect the original report and I don’t believe people’s voices have been heard.

The media reports today that unpaid carers save the economy a massive £60bn a year – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40560827 – here’s the BBC story on the subject.

Anecdotally, my conversations with local people 100 per cent support the findings from Devon County Council’s focus group. Many unpaid carers are at their wits end.

I did propose a spotlight review into how unpaid carers are faring but this was not voted on unfortunately. There didn’t seem support from around the room. However, the issue will return to the agenda in September and I will pursue it then.

If you are an unpaid carer and wish to get in touch I would be very pleased to hear from you.

Email me at claire@claire-wright.org


Sidford Business Park – this IS just a coincidence isn’t it?

“More than £100k in funding earmark for pothole repairs in Sidmouth and Otter Valley … “


Devon schools lose more than 700 teachers and teaching assistants in one year

“In just one year, Devon’s schools have lost more than 700 teachers and teaching assistants.

The worrying figures, revealed in an annual school workforce census published by the government this week?, have been blamed on government cuts by unions.

The data has shown in the Devon County Council authority area there were 11,599 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff in the county’s schools at the end of last year – compared to 12,229 just a year before, meaning schools lost 630 teachers.

The biggest cut was in teaching assistants, with FTE numbers falling by more than 300 from 3,623 to 3,322.

The number of FTE classroom teachers was down by 170, while the number of all teachers – including those in leadership roles – was down by 204. Support and auxiliary staff accounted for most of the rest of the fall. …

The census shows that as a result of the loss of staff – and ever-growing pupil numbers – the pupil: teacher ratio in Devon grew from 17.3 pupils for each teacher in 2016 to 18.2 pupils for each teacher by the end of 2017. …”


Massive extension of Exmouth approved despite “ifs, buts and maybes” and 5% affordable housing

Controversial plans that would see 350 new homes built on the edge of Exmouth have been narrowly approved, despite it being called a wish list full of ifs, buts and maybes. …

East Devon District Council’s Development Management Committee on Tuesday gave a reluctant thumbs-up to the scheme, despite serious concerns raised about the access to the site on Dinan Way and the ‘disgusting’ number of affordable homes that would be provided and objections from Exmouth and Lympstone councils, local ward councillors, Devon County Council and residents.

Outlining the application, planning officer, Chris Rose said that the site was allocated in the Local Plan. He said that it had been tested that the site was not viable if 25 per cent affordable housing was provided but instead only five per cent, 18 houses, had been offered. …

Mike Deaton, Principal Planning Officer for Devon County Council said that they were objecting to the application, partly as the junction of Hulham Road and Exeter Road already exceeds capacity and the new development will therefore compound an existing problem, particularly as the use of Wotton Lane, Summer Lane and Featherbed Lane is unsustainable.

… He said that the solution was an extension of Dinan Way to connect Hulham Road with the A376, but that as there was no guarantee of where the funding could come from, it made it difficult to support the application without the infrastructure being in place.

He also said that the county council’s first priority around education needs would be to expand Exmouth Community College which is already at capacity ahead of the new primary school as part of the development site.

Cllr Paul Carter though said he didn’t see many positives of the application and said that the whole thing needs to be better.

He added: “This is somewhat of a pig’s ear. We have taken so much time to get to this stage and still so much is undecided. I am just flabbergasted that there is only five per cent of affordable housing and has the feel of ‘we will make do’.”

Cllr Maddy Chapman said that Exmouth doesn’t need a new primary school, and added: “I very much doubt that the good ladies of Exmouth will want to breed a second family to fill it.”


“Public sector bosses are on a ‘gilded staircase’ of huge pay rises they do not deserve, MPs warn”

“Public sector bosses are on a “gilded staircase” of huge pay rises they do not deserve, the chair of the public accounts committee has warned.

Labour MP Meg Hillier has written a damning statement about the “lack of oversight” that allows parts of the public sector to inflate its executives’ salaries – at the same time as cutting staff.

She highlighted the high pay received by some heads of academy schools, which her committee has been investigating.

“The lack of oversight is worrying,” Ms Hillier said in her annual report, adding: “The rapid expansion of academies and free schools raises questions about oversight of how these new schools are managed and how they are spending their budgets. …”


Two-thirds of (mainly Tory) county councils expect to be bankrupt by 2020

“… New research this week by the County Councils Network (CCN) shows that England’s largest, mainly Conservative-led, councils face a combined funding pressure of £3.2bn over the next two years; due to projected demand for services, inflation, and government cuts.

Even more worryingly, our research reveals that faced with these funding pressures, council leaders’ confidence in delivering balanced budgets – a legal requirement of councils – is dramatically falling.

Without a cash injection over the next two years, just one-third of respondents are confident of balancing their books in 2020.

Clearly, any scenario that sees a council unable to balance its budget in 2020 may seem a long way off, but it does not paint a reassuring picture for local councils nor bode well for the future of local services

In the short term, what does this all mean for local residents?

Essentially, the worst is yet to come in reductions to local services if county authorities are to balance their books over the next two years with no additional help from government.

The £3.2bn funding black hole will be filled, but substantial cutbacks will have to be made to residents’ local services.

With county authorities seeing their core government support grant reduced by 92 per cent by 2020, the room for manoeuvre is becoming increasingly small for our councils.

Having made savings in back-office, less visible, or non-essential services, our member councils tell us that they will have little choice but to now cut frontline services substantially.

Last month, our research pointed out that due to unavoidable reductions in home to school travel, some 20,000 less pupils receive free travel to local schools.

This week’s budget survey shows more of this is on the way, with at least £466m in savings being made to frontline areas – think adult social care, children’s social services, pothole filling, and bus services.

At the same time, they will have to introduce new charges for services, or significantly raise council tax to make up the shortfall.

While Liz Truss may not want ministers to make the case for extra cash now, a strong but considered voice round the cabinet table for local government – in the form of James Brokenshire – is desperately needed.

Counties want to work with government in a proactive, and constructive way; supporting the new communities secretary in his case to the Treasury for more resources for councils. Otherwise, we might see drastic changes to our local services over the next few years.”