DCC Tories refuse to allow discussion of fire station closures and refuse to have their names recorded for doing it

“At Devon County Council yesterday, Tory councillors voted as a block to prevent my motion critical of the fire station closures from being discussed at the meeting. They also voted not to allow the vote to be recorded, to protect themselves from criticism.

The meeting of the Fire Authority which will finalise the closures has been postponed until January 10th, and the proposals which will be put to the Authority will not be published until after the election.

My motion asked the Council to press the Fire Authority to allow county councillors to speak and represent their constituents, which the Authority’s standing orders would not normally allow us to do – the Tories would not even stand up for the right of councillors to represent their constituents.

Make no mistake – the closures will almost certainly go ahead unless voters throw a spanner in the works! ”

Yet again, Devon Conservative councillors block discussion of Colyton, Topsham and 7 other fire stations which are likely to be closed, once the Tories have got a majority

A quarter of Devon’s children live in poverty says Devon County Council

It’s what people voted for when they voted Conservative for continued austerity.

“A quarter of Devon’s children are living in poverty once housing costs taken into account.

More than 35,000 children in Devon are living in poverty once housing costs are taken into account, councillors have heard.

A Children’s Services Self-Assessment went before Devon County Council’s Children’s Scrutiny Committee last Monday which provided an up-to-date evaluation of the needs of children and families in Devon.

The report outlined how 14 per cent of the local authority’s children are living in poverty (before housing costs), but that rises to 25 per cent (after housing costs) are taking into account.

More than 10 per cent of children are entitled to free school meals, the report added, and also says that 41,000 households in the county are affected by fuel poverty.

Cllr Rob Hannaford, chairman of the Children’s Scrutiny Committee, said that the figures were shocking and in many areas, including Devon, growing up in poverty is not the exception but the rule.

Commenting on the report after the meeting, he said: “These local figures for child poverty in Devon are truly shocking, and it’s completely unacceptable and wrong in 2019, in one of the richest countries in the world, that we are still dealing with this most basic of issues affecting so many children.

“Large numbers of people seem to just wrongly assume that because we live a beautiful part of the country, that we don’t experience the same serious social problems that other areas do. These new figures again show in stark reality that this is just not the case, and much of our poverty and hardship is hidden by the affluence that some others have.”

Cllr Hannaford added: “Thousands more families across Devon, are living on the cusp of the poverty line. One unexpected setback – like redundancy or illness – could push them into the poverty trap.

“Overall there are more than four million children in the UK growing up in poverty. The situation is getting worse, with the number set to rise to five million by 2020. And those poverty rates have risen for every type of working family – lone-parent or couple families, families with full and part-time employment and families with different numbers of adults in work. This is the first time in two decades this has happened, and incredibly it is happening at a time of rising employment, and these figures in Devon are in line with these trends.

“But the evidence is clear – poverty can make existing vulnerabilities worse. Growing up in poverty puts at risk the building blocks of a good childhood – secure relationships, a decent home, having friends and fun, and an inspiring education.

“A child is said to be living in poverty when they are living in a family with an income below 60 per cent of the UK’s average after adjusting for family size. So it’s just not acceptable that some people still seem to trot out the same old tired response that no one is really in poverty these days, and it’s like Victorian times or the 1930s, such as when children didn’t have shoes on their feet.

“My grandparents were brought up in near slum conditions, and at times they also did not have proper shoes, and went hungry, are we really seriously saying that we want to inflict all this misery and hardship on children today?”

He continued: “Clearly the biggest driver for children’s poverty nationally and locally is the profound lack of social, affordable, decent housing. The figures are stark. 120,000 children in England are living in temporary accommodation. There are also 90,000 children living in families who are ‘sofa-surfing’. And of course this accommodation is usually terrible.

What is poverty in the UK?

“B&Bs where sometimes the bathroom is shared and there is nowhere to cook. Places where vulnerable adults can be living on the same corridor. Office block conversions – individual flats the size of a parking space, where families live and sleep in the same single room. And even converted shipping containers – cramped and airless – hot in the summer, freezing in the winter. This is a reality that shames the whole nation.

“Rising living costs, low wages and cuts to benefits are creating a perfect storm in which more children are falling into the poverty trap. Shockingly, two thirds of children living in poverty have at least one parent in work. Many families are struggling to cope with the rising cost of living. The prices of essentials like food and fuel are going up and this hits Britain’s poorest families hardest. We know that parents are skipping meals so they can afford to feed their children, and in winter many families are forced to make the impossible choice of feeding their children or heating their homes.

“So we know what actually causes child poverty and we know how to end it. We know that the income of less well-off families has been hit by severe real-terms cuts in benefits and by higher housing costs. And we know that work does not always guarantee a route out of poverty, with two thirds of child poverty occurring in working families.

“Yet in many areas, including Devon, growing up in poverty is not the exception, it’s the rule, with more children expected to get swept up in poverty in the coming years, with serious consequences for their life chances. Policy makers can no longer deny the depth and breadth of the problem, and the Government must respond with a credible long term child poverty reduction strategy.”

The report revealed that in primary schools, 10.9 per cent of pupils are entitled to free schools meals, and 10 per cent in secondary schools, but Cllr Hannaford feared that the numbers were in reality much higher.

He added: “The percentage is shocking, but there is a feeling in rural areas that it may be more as there is a stigma about people and they don’t claim it so they don’t have the finger pointed at in the local community.”

Cllr Margaret Squires, who represents the Creedy, Taw & Mid Exe ward, added her concerns to those of Cllr Hannaford.

She said: “A headteacher who had moved down here from London said to me the deprivation they see is different. Down here, people don’t want others to know they have free school meals, so they are working every hour they can. But it means that the children are missing out as the parents are so tired, they haven’t got the time to sit and listen to them read.

“I my area, we are virtually fully employed, but some of them work two jobs so they can live in the area, and to survive, they are working all these hours, but it not recorded as deprivation as they don’t have time to sit and read with their children.”

The figures in the report showed at as of September 1, 2019, 771 children were being looked after by the council – a rate of 54.8 per 10,000 children – an increase from 750 – 52.2 per 10,000 children – at March 31.

At September 1, 2019, 3,219 children had been identified through assessment as being formally in need of a specialist children’s service, an increase from 3,318 in March 2019, but the number of children subject of a child protection plan had decreased from 518 to 505 between March and September.

The report also said that there were 25 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the area, and that eight children and young people who turned 18 years old and who were in the care of the local authority were living in unsuitable accommodation during 2018-19.

Cllr Linda Hellyer questioned what the council was doing about it, why they were unsuitable, and what have we done to get them somewhere better.

In response, Darryl Freeman, Head of Children’s Social Care, explained that the definition of unsuitable included prison, where two of the eight were in custody. He added that the council will continue to work with them, assuming they allow them to remain in touch, and to ensure that they have choices once they leave custody.

The report also added that the top three risks for the future were increase in demand, across all services, recruitment and retention, particularly of experienced social workers, and sufficiency of provision for special needs children and placements for Children in Care.

The council also earlier this year adopted a new Children and Young People’s Plan, which is the single plan to co-ordinate developments for the next three years

Each priority in the plan has a detailed strategy/ action plan below it with a multi-agency group led by a senior manager from the partnership.

The self-assessment report was noted by the committee.

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/child-poverty-devon-truly-shocking-3579939

Buck stops at councils for poor rural broadband

“A council-run broadband group has been branded “incompetent” for repeatedly terminating contracts and failing to deliver broadband after a decade.

Last month, Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) began its fourth procurement for a new supplier.

Graham Long, chairman of campaign group Fast Broadband for Rural Devon & Somerset, said the problems needed to be “lanced” and suggested bringing in new operators.

Council-run CDS declined to comment.

Campaigners have highlighted the lack of certainty around the roll-out due to funding arrangements with central government.
About £20m is needed to complete the work but this money was not set out in September’s Spending Review.

The review normally covers three years but this year only covered one.

‘Track record’

Farmer, Steve Horner, from Yarcombe, struggles with a slow internet connection.

“The only way they can recover is by replacing the current team in Exeter… they have to be replaced with competent people who have a track record.”

Mr Long said: “This is a boil that needs to be lanced and my suggestion of bringing in other operators is a way to lance it.

“My conclusion is CDS is currently gambling on that problem being solved by November next year when they expect to sign contracts, and whatever government we have at that time guaranteeing that money would be provided.”

The project is also subject to EU state aid rules and under the terms of approval the work needs to be completed by 2020.
CDS, which is run by Somerset and Devon county councils, has terminated three large contracts so far, twice with BT, and last year with Gigaclear.

People in affected areas believe any supplier would face the same problems as Gigaclear of laying cables underground.
“Some of the roads didn’t have proper foundations so they couldn’t use narrow trenches so had to do a lot more work,” Mr Long said.

Gigaclear connected about 3,000 properties before its contract was terminated.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-50490118?

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