“Nearly 40 million people live in UK areas with illegal air pollution”

Owl says: you don’t hear (current) DCC councillor and its roads supremo Stuart Hughes (Conservative, ex- Monster Raving Loony Party) mentioning this in his election speeches … though you DO hear contender Councillor Marianne Rixson (Independent East Devon Alliance)doing so and drawing attention to its implications for the health of local communities.

“…The extent of the air pollution crisis nationally is exposed in the data which shows 59% of the population are living in towns and cities where nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution breaches the lawful level of 40 microgrammes per cubic metre of air. …”


Sidford hustings: strong performance from Councillor Rixson (Independent EDA)

Best candidate for County Council? It’s your choice. Voting’s on 4th May!

The Devon County Council hustings at Sidford on Wednesday evening (19 April),brought together five of the six candidates vying for the Sidmouth division, which now covers the whole of the Sid Valley.

They are Jeannie Alderdice (Green), Ray Davison (Labour), Stuart Hughes (Conservative), Marianne Rixson (Independent East Devon Alliance) and Richard Wright (UKIP). Only Lewis Ragbourn (Lib Dem) was unable to attend the event, which was Chaired by Cathy Debenham of the Sidford-Sidbury Residents’ Group.

A common thread for most candidates was “transparency, accountability and listening to residents”; concerns about cuts to NHS, social care, and education; and inappropriate development. Despite passionate speeches from Jeannie Allerdice (“EU environmental rules should apply post-Brexit”); Ray Davison (“Conservative austerity policy is past its sell-by date”);and Richard Wright (“countryside not concrete”), just two serious candidates emerged based on their respective records as serving councillors: Marianne Rixson, and Stuart Hughes.

Cllr Rixson has a solid reputation for thoroughness and efficiency, much appreciated by local people in the successful fight against the planned Sidford business park. Long-serving Cllr Hughes offered promises such as “the long-awaited Sidmouth traffic management plan”, and “funding for Alma Bridge” this year.

On the basis of this hustings, Caroline Lucas’ suggestion this week of an informal coalition of e.g. Greens, Labour and Lib Dems, against the Conservative Party machine, sounds a sensible idea.

A second hustings, arranged by the Vision Group for Sidmouth, is scheduled for 28th April , 7pm, in the cellar bar at Kennaway House. For details, see futuresforumvgs.blogspot.com Voting for this DCC election is 4th May, 7am-10pm.

If you value your NHS don’t vote Tory in Seaton, vote Independent East Devon Alliance

Mrs Parr, the Colyton Tory candidate, was a passive presence at recent protests about the closure of beds at Seaton Hospital. On the other hand, EDA candidates Martin Shaw (Seaton and Colyton) and Paul Hayward (Axminster) were then and are now vocal opponents of the plan.

“In her election leaflet, the official Conservative candidate for Seaton and Colyton, Helen Parr, confirms her support for the East Devon Tory policy of accepting ‘bed-less hospitals’. Mrs Parr acknowledges that the decision to close in-patient services at Seaton Hospital is ‘a huge blow for the town and wider area’. But her leaflet adds, ‘Helen will do everything possible to get the best role for Seaton hospital for the future’, and will insist that the CCG are ‘delivering the services they are promising before any beds are closed’. So NOT supporting the Town Council’s fight to STOP the bed closures. You have been warned.

Conservative candidate confirms her support for ‘bed-less’ hospital

Beware Boundaries in Budleigh

If you are registered to vote (though this could be problematical – see post below) and you live in the hinterland of Budleigh Salterton, you might wish to comment on boundary change proposals for the area.

With the local land owners/property developers creeping (sorry, leaping) ever-closer to the town, the proposed change could have worrying implications for residents of that lovely countryside.

Congratulations to East Devon Alliance councillor Geoff Jung for spotting this one – he has been instrumental in ensuring that the local land owners/property developers keep to the letter of the law about their expansion plans, which seem to get more and more grandiose.

East Devon Alliance provides evidence on poor scrutiny at EDDC to Parliamentary Inquiry; EDDC provides woeful response ignoring major problems

Owl says: EDA submission – explosive and incisive; EDDC submission – spin and fluff.

Executive Summary of longer submission:

“Executive Summary

East Devon Alliance understands that encouraging economic development is a crucial task in local government. However, we are concerned that the increasing influence of unaccountable business interests on council decisions damages the health of local democracy, and can threaten the wider interests of local communities. The climate of unhealthy cynicism about politics, and a failure to engage in the democratic process, is reinforced whenever there is an apparent failure of scrutiny to make councils transparent and accountable.

Overview and Scrutiny (O&S) can too easily be rendered ineffectual by a dominant majority party in a cabinet-led-executive.

Government advice that members of a majority party should not chair O&S dcommittees must be made mandatory.

Chief Executives must not be able to have inappropriate influence on O&S committees.

Scrutiny Officers need to be independent of influence and interference from senior officers or members of cabinet.

The scrutiny role needs to be strengthened to be able to call witnesses. It should be a legal requirement for officers and members of Council and associated bodies to cooperate.

With increasing privatisation, commercial confidentiality must not be used to shield public expenditure from scrutiny.

Scrutiny should “reflect the voice and concerns of the public” by giving local people more say in what issues are chosen for scrutiny.

There is no scrutiny mechanism of the new tier of local government created by the unelected and self-selecting Local Enterprise Partnerships who now control over £2 billion a year in England. Proposals made in 2013 by the Centre for Public Scrutiny could form the basis for scrutiny of such devolved bodies.”

EDDC’s full submission to the Inquiry, by contrast, seems woefully inadequate, when all you can find to boast about is your Tree Task and Finish Forum:

“Written evidence submitted by the Scrutiny Committee of East Devon District Council [OSG 035]

The committee considered the terms of reference set down by the CLG inquiry and responded as follows:

The committee discussed the terms of reference for submission:
Whether scrutiny committees in local authorities in England are effective in holding decision makers to account:

o Meetings are publicised and open to public, with responses to Cabinet as needed. Some question as to whether these comments are heeded, not just ‘noted’; if only noted, there are no reasons fed back to the Scrutiny committee to further work on or refine recommendations.

The extent to which scrutiny committees operate with political impartiality and independence from executives
o The committee were comfortable that they are independent and impartial.
Whether scrutiny officers are independent of and separate from those being scrutinised

o Democratic Services have high integrity
How chairs and members are selected

o Independent Chairman. Politically balanced committee but little attention paid
to individual skills, knowledge and aptitude. Consideration could be given to further training to hone scrutiny skills.

Whether powers to summon witnesses are adequate

o Inadequate for external organisations, with a recent example of the repeated request to NHS Property Services to attend but still failed to appear to answer questions. Some reluctance by members and officers to attend.

The potential for local authority scrutiny to act as a voice for local service users
o This was already being undertaken by the committee, with recent examples
covering superfast broadband delivery, NHS revision of service delivery, and the Police 101 service.

How topics for scrutiny are selected
o Committee Members (and other councillors) invited to be involved. There
may be work that the Cabinet require more detailed analysis of and a request made to the Scrutiny committee to carry out that examination – to date this has not occurred. There was often a frustration in not being able to investigate topics because of limitations of the constitution or on issues where so much time had passed that it was not deemed viable to look into.

The support given to the scrutiny function by political leaders and senior officers, including the resources allocated (for example whether there is a designated officer team)
o Shared service of an officer within Democratic Services, no dedicated officer. No dedicated budget for scrutiny work, no designated lead officer. Officers are called to committee as best fits the topics for discussion.
What use is made of specialist external advisers
o To date mostly witnesses not advisers invited to attend. A suggestion was
made to approach the Local Government Association for a scrutiny advisor. Unclear where such specialist external advisors could be sourced from or what cost that would entail, particularly as the committee has no budget.

The effectiveness and importance of local authority scrutiny of external organisations o Mostly a lobbying role passed to MPs and others. Perhaps more relevant for scrutiny at a county level, but the committee does the best it can to communicate to external organisations.

The role of scrutiny in devolution deals and the scrutiny models used in combined authorities
o Need to have scrutiny involvement throughout the process, not after the deal has been completed

Examples where scrutiny has worked well and not so well
Effective internally on aspects such as the Tree Task and Finish Forum, which produced a number of recommendations taken on board to protect trees and support the business case for an additional staff member; and changes to how press releases are handled by staff; less effective on having an impact on proposed increases in beach hut charges. With limited powers, difficult to have an impact on other outside bodies.”



Independent councillor points out flaws in new EDDC housing company project

Owl says: One flaw NOT pointed out is how useless EDDC is at running large projects. Knowle relocation – bungled; Exmouth regeneration – bungled; Section 106 payments – bungled and all handled with secrecy and minimal information to the public and non-Cabinet councillors, including those in their own party.

If they can’t control these projects what hope do we have of them controlling bigger ones? And as for which developers they will choose …

A housing company that could allow council bosses to better respond to market pressures has received early support – but a Sidmouth councillor argues there are ‘huge risks’ to taxpayers that need to be tightly controlled.

Agenda papers say an East Devon District Council-owned (EDDC) company, free from red tape, could play a key role in increasing supply of homes and meeting demand when private developers fall short.

However, Councillor Cathy Gardner raised concerns that it is not a ‘local’ housing company and will in fact be able to develop anywhere in the country.

She said: “EDDC has been good at looking after its council houses, but this isn’t about developing council houses. They may decide they want to build elsewhere in the country where they can make more profit. That might be all right if it was limited to building ‘affordable’ housing here, but that’s not written into the terms.

“It needs to answer so many questions – is the company being set up to meet housing needs in East Devon or is it more about profit, because it can take that money into its general funds? Where is the money coming from to set it up? EDDC may have fantastically good intentions, but the devil is in the details.”

Cllr Gardner also voiced concerns about the ‘huge risk’ in speculating on the property market and said it is dependent on house prices remaining high.

Cabinet members backed the creation of East Devon Homes last week and officers will now prepare an initial business plan, identify the first projects and report back to the council.

If approved, the company will be financed by EDDC and any profits would come back to the authority. It could sell land to the company at market value – or potentially gift it – and then borrow money to finance projects.

The report says the company, run by a board of directors, will be able to operate on commercial terms, free of the ‘continual interference’ from central government.

Supporting the proposals, Councillor Jill Elson, EDDC’s portfolio holder for homes and communities, said: “This presents a wonderful opportunity for the council to play a more active part in the local housing market.

“We have researched the proposal carefully and fully, looked at the risks and rewards, and decided that the local housing company model is a suitable model for the council to deliver its housing ambitions.

“We are seeing high levels of demand for housing in the area and see this as a way of increasing supply consistent with the Government’s growth agenda.”