Claire Wright (Independent DCC councillor) asks unpaid carers in Devon to contact her

From Independent DCC Councillor Claire Wright’s Facebook page*

“I am chairing a scrutiny review into how unpaid carers in Devon are managing and would really like to hear from you if you are caring for a relative, spouse or friend.

It has taken quite a bit of pushing to get the review to take place. It was finally agreed at last September’s Devon County Council Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee meeting… and then it has taken a while to get the first meeting set up.

To recap, I last raised the issue as a matter of concern at committee over a year ago after seeing the results of a local focus group which indicated that unpaid carers were feeling exhausted, short of money and stressed from a lack of respite care.

I am pleased to report that the plans for a review now seem to be progressing well and there is some survey work to be undertaken before face to face discussions can begin.

The first review meeting will take place in July (after a local carers survey has been analysed) and the plan is for members of the spotlight review to travel to local carers groups and hear firsthand how people are managing.

The review is scheduled to report back to the September Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee, hopefully with some useful recommendations.
If you’d like to take part, I would love to hear from you in writing and/or in person.l

Please get in touch with me in the first instance by email at
claire@claire-wright.org

Thank you!

Improving standards in public life (hint: a good few of our councillors fail the suggested tests!)

“On 30 January 2019, the Committee on Standards in Public Life published its long-awaited report on local government ethical standards, reflecting evidence obtained via a consultation exercise carried out from January-May 2018.

The report makes 26 recommendations.

Below we highlight the top five that will be of interest to local authorities, in particular to monitoring officers.

Some of the recommendations could be implemented quickly without the need for primary legislation – most important of these is the recommendation concerning amendments to registrable interests.The wide-ranging report, which runs to over 100 pages, finds that while the majority of councillors and officers maintain high standards of conduct, there is clear evidence of misconduct by some – mostly bullying, harassment or other disruptive behaviour. The report also raises concerns about risks to standards under the current rules governing declaring interests, gifts and hospitality.

The report provides an excellent review of the current framework governing the behaviour of local government councillors and executives in England and then makes a number of recommendations to promote and maintain the standards expected by the public. While it identifies numerous points of best practice, it makes 26 separate recommendations for improvement.

Top five recommendations

The top five recommendations, likely to be of most interest to those in local government, are:

Updating the model code and extending it to parish councils: the report finds considerable variation in the length, quality and clarity of local authority codes of conduct. It therefore recommends enhancing quality and consistency by requiring the Local Government Association to create an updated model code. In a bid to help ease the burden on principal authorities (who must investigate code breaches by parish councillors), the report also recommends requiring parish councils to adopt the code of conduct of their principal authorities or the new model code.

Presumption of official capacity: perhaps the most arresting suggestion, the report recommends combatting poor behaviour by presuming councillors to act in an official capacity in their public conduct, including statements made on publicly-accessible social media. This arises from the perennial concern that the current understanding of public and private capacity is too narrow, undermining public confidence.

Extending the list of registrable interests: the report considers that current arrangements for declaring councillors’ interests are too narrow and do not meet public expectations, so it suggests refining the arrangements for declaring and managing interests, including extending the list of registrable interests to include two categories of non-pecuniary interest:

(1) relevant unpaid commercial interests such as unpaid directorships; and

(2) trusteeship or membership of organisations that seek to influence opinion or public policy. As this does not require primary legislation to be implemented, this is one recommendation which may soon be acted upon. We are particularly pleased to see written evidence submitted by members of Cornerstone Barristers was cited in relation to recommendation (iii): see more below.

A new “objective” test for when councillors must withdraw or not vote:

monitoring officers will be particularly interested in the discussion in the report about the need to update the test for when councillors are forbidden from voting or participating in discussion on matters in which they have an interest.

The report recommends the test be overhauled and that councillors be required to refrain from voting or withdraw whenever they have any interest at all – whether registered or not – that a member of the public would reasonably regard as so significant as to likely prejudice the councillor’s decision-making.

Strengthening the sanctions system:

the report considers the current sanctions insufficient and so recommends allowing local authorities to suspend councillors without allowances for up to six months, with suspended councillors enjoying a right of appeal to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman for investigation and a binding decision on the matter.

Other conclusions and recommendations

The report further concludes that there is no need for a centralised body to govern and adjudicate on standards and that various benefits exist to local authorities maintaining their responsibility for implanting and applying the Seven Principles of Public Life.

A number of other recommendations are likely to be of interest, including:

Assisting local authority monitoring officers, the “lynchpin of the arrangements for upholding ethical standards” (p 81), by extending disciplinary protections and offering additional training for the statutory officers who support them.

Giving local authorities a discretionary power to establish a standards committee to advise on standards issues and decide on alleged breaches and/or sanctions for breaching the code of conduct.

Abolishing the current criminal offences in the Localism Act 2011 relating to disclosable pecuniary interests, which are said to be disproportionate in principle and ineffective in practice.

Requiring local authorities to take a range of steps to prevent and manage conflicts of interest that can arise when decisions are made in more complex and potentially less transparent contexts such as Local Enterprise Partnerships and joint ventures.

Fostering an ethical culture and practice by requiring councillors to attend formal induction training by their political groups, with national parties adding the same requirement to their model group rules.

The report recognises that many of its recommendations would require primary legislation and therefore be subject to parliamentary timetabling. The remaining recommendations – in particular those relating to registrable interests (as mentioned above), statutory officers and formal training for councillors – could however be implemented relatively quickly.

The Committee intends to monitor the uptake of its suggestions in 2020.”

Robin Green, Estelle Dehon and Dr Alex Williams, all members of the Cornerstone Planning and Government teams, submitted written evidence item 281 to the committee. Their evidence was cited at p 45 of the report in relation to recommendation (iii) above, on registrable interests.

Robin and Estelle are also contributors to Cornerstone on Councillors’ Conduct (Bloombsury Professional, 2015), which identifies and explains the law following the changes implemented by the Localism Act 2011 in relation to the standards system governing the conduct of elected members in local government.”

https://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/governance/314-governance-a-risk-articles/39908-improving-ethical-standards

“Heart of the South West, our Local Enterprise Partnership, gets its first school report and it’s not good”

Local David Daniel, a former senior government strategist, who has done much work on the East Devon economy, Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (HotSWLEP) statistics and forecasts and county growth figures (and presented these to EDDC and Devon County Council) has provided this analysis of the current “achievements” of HotSWLEP.

It must be recalled that HotSWLEP is sucking up vast amounts of money that in the past would have gone direct to local authorities and its board members (apart from a few councillors) have vested interests in housing development, the nuclear industry, commercial banking and Hinkley C recruitment.

Here is the report:

“As a result of the 2017 Mary Ney review of Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Governance, a newly formed Joint Scrutiny Committee is to scrutinise Heart of the South West’s (HotSW) annual performance review. This will take place on

Thursday, 14 February, in County Hall at 2.15.

There will, however, be no opportunity for public engagement or speaking and this Scrutiny Committee is not politically balanced but appointed by the very councils that agreed HotSW’s strategy in the first place.

Credit where credit’s due, this is progress! Remember, HotSW was appointed by the Government to act as our “devolution body in waiting” in 2011. It didn’t publish minutes of any meetings in the public domain until 2015. Yet it had already agreed a growth deal with the Government on our behalf the year before, 2014.

It has since published wildly ambitious strategy papers culminating with its Productivity Strategy in late 2017 aimed at doubling our local economy first in 18 years, later revised to 20 years, through transformational growth in the “Golden Opportunity” economic sectors of: Aerospace; Marine; Nuclear; Data Analytics and Healthcare. Economic growth comes from increasing the labour force and/or increasing productivity.

Demographically, the population is set to grow 0.8% p.a. but it is an ageing one and the growth of those of employable age will only be a fifth of this at 0.16% p.a. HotSW intends to “limit growth” in employment to 0.8% per annum and concentrate on raising productivity way above the national average. But even this “limited” growth in employment is five times the trend and will need substantial inward migration.

When this strategy was written, productivity in the HotSW area ranked 7th worst in England. An Office of National Statistics (ONS) report last week said: “The lowest labour productivity in 2016 was in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly. Other largely rural LEPs with relatively low labour productivity included Heart of the South West, Greater Lincolnshire, and The Marches”. The ONS now places HotSW lower at 4th worst, 18% below UK average.

We now have the opportunity to lift the lid and peer into how successful HotSW has been in meeting the targets it agreed, by reading the HotSW annual performance review for 2017, commissioned from Ash Futures.

Investment

HotSW has secured a total of some £245M to date from central government funds, though, when assessed on a per head basis, HoSW has actually received one of the lower allocations across the LEP network. These funds are supposed to be matched by funding from other sources.

LEPs have to be business-chaired and business-led and it was intended that LEPs would unlock private investment. However, the bulk of this matched funding is forecast to come from public bodies including 17% from local authorities. Only 23% will come from the private sector. In regard to this the report says: “Our consultations have also highlighted that the strategic plan is not perceived as having had any significant influence over private sector investment plans.”

Only seven of the 56 funded projects are yet complete in spending terms and so the bulk of the benefits are yet to come. Though this needs to be read in the context of a continuous stream of past funding previously distributed through Regional Development Agencies.

Of these projects, 30 are designed to create conditions for growth e.g. transport and digital infrastructure; 17 are designed to capitalise on distinctive assets in expected high growth sectors such as low-carbon and nuclear energy, marine, big data and photonics; and seven on maximising productivity and growth such as opening up employment space.

Several stakeholders feel that rural areas have been ‘overlooked’ by LEP investments and much of this due to this original identification of urban-based transformational opportunities. However, this should not come as a surprise given the composition of the original HotSW board which was dominated by individuals from a construction/development; defence/nuclear or big education background.

Here are some examples of the sort of projects submitted in the bid proposals:

£13 million to provide Hinkley C infrastructure and £55 million of pump priming to provide Hinkley housing;

a Nuclear Training College;

and one of the deals agreed includes £13.7 million loan funding to three developers to accelerate home building at: Frome, Brixham, Exeter and Highbridge. (You may ask why developers need such funding).

Much is made of the “Golden Opportunity” offered by Hinkley C. This is not the first nuclear power station to be built on the site. Hinkley A was constructed between 1957 and 1965 and Hinkley B between 1967 and 1976. So there should be plenty of historical evidence of the short and long-term economic benefits of such developments. Where are they or are they too insignificant to be found? It is no longer obvious that this is a growth industry.

Economic Measures and Growth

Lack of progress in making any significant changes to our economy are best illustrated by two direct quotes from the review:

“…….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; Strong – keeping pace with UK average; Transformational – faster than UK average]

“The plan outcome measures and objectives in the current economic environment do not currently look achievable, certainly in the short-term. Some of this is outside of the LEP partnership’s control (with more muted conditions nationally). However, the fact that many of the Strategic Plan outcome measures are expressed in relative terms does means that even if significant absolute improvements have been made to the HoSW economy, they may still never meet their outcome measures given that other areas will grow more quickly, notably London and South East. It is our view that some of the outcome targets, particularly those associated with the ‘transformational’ target, now look very aspirational in their nature.”

The only areas on track appear to be in the delivery of broadband coverage and in housing development density (development rates against existing stock).

Conclusion

For an unelected body that made a pitch to Government eight years ago that it could transform the local economy, including, initially, delivering health and transport, this below average performance from unlocking investment to falling productivity surely can only be seen as a failure?

The review catalogues the “critical issues” (excuses) for shortfalls: the economic context has changed; the expected ‘freedom and flexibilities’ have subsequently been rolled-back by Government; parameters [strings] have been tied around what could be funded; HoSW is a relatively new ‘construct’ and does not naturally represent a functional economic, or political, area as found elsewhere in the UK.

But that’s life. Any worthwhile strategic plan needs have been developed to be robust against a set of likely future scenarios. The “critical issues” listed above shouldn’t have come as surprise and the sensitivity of the plan to these sorts of “issues”, some use the term risks, should have been examined and reported. Another essential component, given the extreme uncertainty of how to improve productivity, should have been the development of a set of metrics and a feedback mechanism. So it is heartening to see that the reviewers make this recommendation:

“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. Whilst we recognise that many projects are still at an early stage of development, we feel this is a missed opportunity. A better understanding of how investments have developed would lead to better long-term decision-making.”

On the basis of this review, is HotSW delivering value for money (our money)?

SOURCES:

Joint Scrutiny Agenda and Ash Futures Review reports pack:
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

Office for National Statistics latest productivity data:
https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/labourproductivity/articles/regionalandsubregionalproductivityintheuk/february2018#results-for-local-enterprise-partnerships-and-city-regions

HotSW Productivity Strategy:
https://heartofswlep.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/HeartoftheSouthWestProductivityStrategy.pdf

HotSW Strategic Economic Plan
https://heartofswlep.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Non-tech-summary-FINAL.pdf

DCC Chief Executive appointed to group to ensure “orderly Brexit”

“The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has set up a network of nine local authority chief executives across England as part of preparations for the UK leaving the EU.

The Ministry said the chief executives would engage with councils in their region “to share information on preparations to support an orderly exit”.

It added that the chief executives would simultaneously be kept informed on national policy on EU exit that could have implications for local services, businesses and residents.

The chief executives participating in the network are:

Phil Norrey, Devon County Council (South West)
Becky Shaw, East Sussex County Council (South East)
John O’Brien, London Councils (London)
Nick Page, Solihull MBC (West Midlands)
Anthony May, Nottingham City Council (East Midlands)
Tony Reeves, Liverpool City Council (North West)
Martin Swales, South Tyneside Council (North East)
Tom Riordan, Leeds City Council (Yorkshire and Humber)
Richard Carr, Central Bedfordshire Council (East of England)”

Source: Local Government Lawyer

Greendale owner 30th most influential Devonian

Our old friend Karime Hassan (CEO Exeter City Council) is in 19th place, Steve Hindley (Chair,Local Enterprise Partnership) is 18th, Alison Hernandez (Police and Crime Commissioner) in 12th place, John Varley (CEO, Clinton Devon Estates) in 9th place, with Devon County Council’s CEO Phil Norey in 2nd place and DCC Leader John Hart in first place.

“30. Rowan Carter, Director Greendale Group

The company behind the Greendale Farm Shop and Waterdance fishing fleet, incorporates a diverse range of businesses. From its beginning as a farming enterprise set up by the Carter family more than 150 years ago, the group includes the farm shop, Waterdance Fishing, Greendale Living, Greendale Business Park, Greendale Haulage, Exmouth Marina and Greendale Leisure. Last year, the Carter family unveiled major expansion plans for the Greendale Farm Shop to create 30 jobs and provide ‘significant benefits’ to East Devon.

The family has also made a £5million commission of two new fishing boats, including the largest beam trawler to be launched under the British flag in over 20 years. The company also wants to build more agricultural buildings and intends to acquire more farmland in order to expand its farming business.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/business/50-most-powerful-people-devon-2450702

Are DCC councillors refusing to let Claire Wright’s star shine before local elections?

Owl says:

Local council elections: 2 May 2019

Greater Exeter Strategic plan:
not going out for consultation until June 2019

Claire Wright’s long-promised inquiry into how Devon carers are coping:
Delayed by at least a year to June 2019 at the earliest

Anyone smell rats (on a sinking ship)?

“My efforts to get a spotlight review into how Devon carers are faring seems to have hit another delay.

I first proposed a review at the April Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee meeting of last year, but the vote was delayed until councillors had visited the contractors who look after the service, Westbank League of Friends.

My interest in the subject was sparked after reading a report which indicated that many carers were feeling exhausted, ill and short of money. Here is the background –

http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/scrutiny_review_to_take_place_into_how_devon_carers_are_coping

After a useful meeting at Westbank, I duly proposed a spotlight review once again at the September meeting. It was agreed this time.

I have now enquired twice when this review is going to have its first meeting but have had unsatisfactory answers.

At yesterday’s committee meeting I asked again when the first meeting was going to take place.

I was told that it wouldn’t take place until at least June as more information was needed.

I pointed out that this was almost a year after I had proposed the review (actually it is longer as I originally proposed it last April but it was not agreed then).

But the chair said the information was required before a spotlight review was held.

This is deeply disappointing and feels as though the issue is being kicked into the long grass.

I know many carers out there are struggling and to defer this issue is unfair and wrong in my view.

I will definitely be pursuing this.”

http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/review_into_how_devon_carers_are_faring_delayed_until_after_june