£2 million unspent on broadband cannot be reallocated

“Councillors in Devon have been told that they cannot use £2m of unspent funds from a major broadband project.

External funding has been used to finish the first phase of the Connecting Devon and Somerset scheme, the largest government-funded superfast broadband programme in the UK.

However, councillors who wanted to use the extra £2m to accelerate the project have been told that it is not within the county council’s power to reallocate funds.

“Councillor Stuart Barker, Devon County Council cabinet member for economy and skills, said: “The money isn’t for us to redistribute.

“We are not the accountable authority or the contract holder, so it is not for us to redistribute that money.”

The first phase of the Connecting Devon and Somerset project has been used to install superfast broadband in homes on Exmoor and Dartmoor with other difficult areas due to be completed by next year.


“Thousands of miles of UK roads in poor condition”

“Some 10% of the road network maintained by local authorities in Great Britain is in poor condition, or has been flagged for further inspection.
About 37,000 kilometres (22,990 miles) across England, Wales and Scotland fell below top standard in surveys carried out on behalf of the Department for Transport.

The RAC said the road network had suffered from years of underinvestment
The government said it was investing £6bn in improving local roads.
The analysis by the BBC shared data unit comes as a separate investigation by the Asphalt Industry Alliance found more than 39,300 kilometres (24,400 miles) of road had been identified as needing essential maintenance in the next year.

Simon Williams, a spokesman for the RAC, said: “Before the cold snap the condition of many local roads was on a knife edge with many councils struggling to fix our roads properly.

“But now, as a result of the ‘Beast from the East’ some local roads will have deteriorated even further, possibly to the point that they represent a serious risk to the safety of users.” …


Devon County Council: the place democracy goes to die

Facebook post by DCC Lib Dem Councillor Brian Greenslade

Late last year we started to learn about plans by the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and NHS England to introduce by the 1st April Accountable Care Organisations to replace CCG’s in the Health Service. These organisations would provide health and social care services. Bringing these services together makes sense but democratic oversight appeared to be an after thought. ACO’s seemed to be based on similar type Organisations in the US.

What was clear was that little or no public scrutiny of these proposals had happened. Congratulations to Sarah Wollaston MP Chairman of the Health Select Committee who then intervened to stall this initiative to allow the Parliamentary Health Select Committee chance to scrutinise the proposals. The same was true at Devon County Hall where nothing about this was brought to the attention of members of the Health Scrutiny Committee.

Opposition to ACO’s started to brew up so then suddenly the Government and NHS England started to talk about integrated care systems instead which apparently are different. How different is not clear and I am concerned that this could be a back door attempt to introduce ACO’s.

Yesterday at the DCC Cabinet a report by the Chief Executive about Integrated Care Systems was considered. It failed to answer key questions but it was clear that changes from April were on the way.

My Lib Dem colleagues and I hotly contested the recommendations and called for time to have this report sent to Scrutiny first. This was voted down by the Tory majority.

We reacted to this by calling in the Executive decision for scrutiny. This as the effect of delaying any decision on this being made until 11th April at the earliest to consider representations by Scrutiny.

Amazingly the Tories are rushing scrutiny through by making it an urgent item for the Health Scrutiny meeting on the 22nd of March giving little time for consideration of this critical issue for the health of the people of Devon.

Democratic standards that the Lib Dem’s stand for mean little to Devon’s ruling Tories!”

Another county moving to unitisation despite district council protests

Owl wonders what is going on under the radar in Devon and whether district councils are more worried about loss of power and influence rather than economic considerations … recalling that EDDC Tory Leader Paul Diviani rejected the idea of a Jurassic national park with Dorset because EDDC would lose control over planning.

“District councils in Buckinghamshire have responded angrily to government plans to abolish them.

Communities secretary Sajid Javid said yesterday that he was minded to agree a proposal from the county council to create a county-wide unitary council.

In a joint statement, Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, South Buckinghamshire and Wycombe councils said: “While we are extremely disappointed, the ‘minded to’ decision is not set in stone, and we will be making the strongest possible representations to the secretary of state that this decision is not the right one.

“We don’t believe that this decision is in the best interest of our local residents, businesses, community groups, parish councils and various other stakeholders across the county and, based on our own engagement, we don’t believe it has strong local support.”

The districts had made a rival proposal under which Aylesbury Vale would become one unitary and the other three councils would form another.

They said this recognised differences in the economy, jobs, growth and housing markets across the county.

“A single large unitary will mean major opportunities will be missed in these areas and that a one size fits all model will not mean the best deal,” they said.

“We also question the savings the single unitary model claims to deliver.”


What if parishes controlled most local services?

Owl has been thinking – always dangerous and always upsetting some people! This time it is about unitary councils and how they might work for the “little people” (or even little owls).

It seems that almost everyone now agrees they will save money, by removing a tier of government. But, when and if they do, how do we safeguard ourselves from being hijacked by the likes of Local Development Partnerships, big business and greedy speculators (some of whom, unfortunately, are likely to be unitary councillors and some who could be all three!).

It seems the absolute key is the devolving of as much decision-making power as is practical to parish level.

Local power brokers (we know who they are!) will inevitably resist this as much as possible. Cornwall’s unitary system is generally accepted to have been something of a success, but the big criticism is the centralisation of decision-making, and lack of democracy.

If we devolve power to parish level, surely this should in lude planning – as the more local it is, the more likely it is to work. It is, of course, a myth that this will lead to nimbyism. Most communities are happy to accept new building – they just don’t want nasty little boxes in the wrong place at inflated prices.

It is obvious that we need to reduce the tiers of government. Look what we have locally: parish council, EDDC, Greater Exeter, the GESP area (which is not the same as it includes Mid Devon), County Council, the LEP (together with its new proto-authority/the Joint Committee), England, the UK, the EU. That makes nine levels of bureaucrats all reinventing the same wheels (and charging for it!).

We are leaving the EU (probably), and it seems to Owl we could quite happily exit EDDC, Greater Exeter, GESP, and the LEP without any loss – which would leave us with four. Parish, County, England, UK. Plenty enough. And imagine the savings!

We could devolve as much as possible to parish level, provided those parishes were of a certain minimum size, say 10,000 population. Parishes could cooperate with neighbouring parishes in the provision of some services such as environmental health. Most such as street cleaning, highway maintenance of everything except A roads, and non-strategic planning could be left to the parish.

But it would mean powerful (and often rapaciously greedy) people being forced to lose that power for the greater good.

Aaahh, well it was good to dream!

Another new unitary council approved – to save money

Owl says: how long can Devon hold out? And should it?

“The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has said he is “minded to” back the proposal for a single new unitary council in Buckinghamshire.

In a written ministerial statement Sajid Javid said he had chosen the structure proposed by Buckinghamshire County Council ahead of a proposal for two unitaries put forward by the district councils of Aylesbury Vale, Chiltern, High Wycombe, and South Bucks.

The latter plan would have seen one council for the area of Aylesbury Vale and the other for the remainder of the current county area.

Javid’s decision is subject to Parliamentary approval and further discussions.

The Secretary of State said: “I am satisfied that this new single council, if established, is likely to improve local government and service delivery in the county, generating savings, increasing financial resilience, facilitating a more strategic and holistic approach to planning and housing challenges, and sustaining good local services. I am also satisfied that across Buckinghamshire as a whole there is a good deal of local support for this new council, and that the area of the council represents a credible geography.


DCC Councillor Martin Shaw (East Devon Alliance) updates on NHS changes

This is a long article but if you want to know where we are with NHS changes in Devon this gives you all the information.

Our pressure has led to Devon NHS joining a national retreat from privatising Accountable Care Organisations. However the Devon Integrated Care System will still cap care, with weak democratic control – we need time to rethink

We must thank ALL our Independent Councillors – particularly DCC Independent Councillor Claire Wright, DCC Councillor Martin Shaw (East Devon Alliance) and EDDC Councillor Cathy Gardner (East Devon Alliance) for the tremendous work they have done (and continue to do) in the face of the intransigence (and frankly, unintelligence) of sheep-like Tory councillors.

At EDDC Tory Councillors told their Leader to back retaining community hospitals, so he went to DCC and voted to close them (receiving no censure for this when Independents called for a vote of no confidence).

At the DCC, Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee Tory members were 10-line whipped by its Chair Sarah Randall-Johnson to refuse a debate on important changes and to vote for accelerated privatisation with no checks or balances.

At DCC full council – well Tory back-benchers might just as well send in one councillor to vote since they all seem to be programmed by the same robotics company!