Devon and Somerset – a new Klondike gold rush?

The LEP housing numbers, anticipating 50,000 new households in Devon, are almost certainly driven in part by the heroic assumptions about the local economy, as Owl has pointed out many times.

As we know, the LEP assumption is 4% growth per annum for the next 18 years. Such a sustained economic boom would invoke a ‘Klondike’ style immigration rush into Devon and Somerset, as the economies of all of the rest of the western world failed to compete with us at that level.

East Devon’s current Local Plan is based upon an anticipated annual UK economic growth rate of 3% from 2007, which has turned out to be just over 1%.

This, of course, is why many of our employment sites are dormant (and one of the many reasons why we do not need a new site in Sidford), and all our town centres are struggling – there simply isn’t demand.

Even if economic growth was to average 3% growth from now until the end of the Plan period, which looks incredibly optimistic, we would still have 33% more employment land than we need, according to East Devon’s own numbers.

The LEP’s projections have been laughed at by everyone – especially, Owl gathers, in Whitehall.

But they feed into a whole raft of housing and economic projections, that will ultimately emerge as policy around the region.

What assumption will be used for the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan (GESP) projections, Owl wonders? Now delayed until after the next local council elections in 2019?

Will the GESP team dare to condemn the LEP numbers, or will they adopt them, even when they must know they are nonsense?

What might happen if those without vested interests in the growth of expensive housing in the area were for once denied a say due to conflict of interest?

And where are the signs of the revisions of our Local Plan, based on current realities, that are required every 5 years?

By 2036 one-third of people in Devon will be over 65 – but don’t worry, they will have PLENTY of houses available!

Owl is puzzled. Our Local Enterprise Partnership says we need 50,000 new homes in the next 5 years (published in 2017 – so say until 2023):

https://heartofswlep.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/SEP-Final-draft-31-03-14-website-1.pdf
(page 8)

Yet the Office for National Statistics says that the population of Devon will increase by just over 52,000 by 2026 (see below). Averaging a very low estimate of low 2 people per home that would mean we would need 26,000 new homes IN TOTAL in Devon in the next 8 years, not 50,000.

In fact, the same Office of National Statistics says average occupancy is 2.4 persons per household – so a more accurate figure would be 21,666 extra homes needed in Devon by 2026 – again NOT 50,000!

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/families/bulletins/familiesandhouseholds/2017

Someone has their sums badly wrong. 50,000 by 2023 or 21,666 by 2026.

Is it the Office of National Statistics or our LEP with its preponderance of developers and landowners?

“The population of Devon will increase by 52,100 by 2026, according to the Office for National Statistics.

In 2016 the population was 778,800. By 2026 it is expected to reach 830,900, a rise of 6.7%.

Every two years the ONS estimates how the population of England will change over the next 25 years.

Statisticians study birth and death rates, and look at how the county’s population is ageing.

In Devon the percentage of the population made up by pensioners is expected to rise from 24.8% in 2016 to 27.6% 10 years later. And by 2036 the ONS thinks over 65s will make up almost a third of the area’s residents. …”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/population-devon-grow-52100-1667958

Hinkley C “never to be repeated mistake” to be repeated!

And yet another Local Enterprise Partnership will be subsidising yet another expensive nuclear power plant with OUR money.

The government has confirmed it is considering putting taxpayers’ money into a project to build a new nuclear power station at Wylfa in North Wales.

It’s a decision that, if taken (and it almost certainly will be), will mark a significant U-turn in the government’s approach to procuring new nuclear power.

In 2010, the government was adamant that the UK public should never have to run the risk of lengthy and costly overruns that have become a hallmark of nuclear plant construction.

In the case of Hinkley Point C in Somerset, the government made much of the fact that come what may, the UK taxpayer would be insulated from the skyrocketing costs that the contractor, EDF, had incurred on a similar plant in France.

But there was a price to pay for that taxpayer protection: very expensive electricity.

In return for shouldering all the risk, EDF demanded a price for the electricity that Hinkley will (one day) produce that is double the current going rate.

The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee were critical of that deal and there was considerable pressure to significantly reduce the cost of power from the Wylfa plant. It’s expected it will come in around £77 per unit, compared to £92.50 for Hinkley. …

“The 60-Year Downfall of Nuclear Power in the U.S. Has Left a Huge Mess”

“The demand for atomic energy is in decline. But before the country [USA] can abandon its plants, there’s six decades of waste to deal with.

… It is 60 years since America’s first commercial nuclear power station was opened by President Dwight D. Eisenhower at Shippingport, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on May 26, 1958. But the hopes of a nuclear future with power “too cheap to meter” are now all but over. All that is left is the trillion-dollar cleanup. …”

http://flip.it/w8Ec5e

So what do we do? WE build MORE nuclear power stations which our Local Enterprise Partnership heavily subsidises with OUR money. Though, as a number of members of the LEP have nuclear interests, it won’t worry them.

About our Local Enterprise Partnership’s promise to double growth …

“The weakest household spending for three years and falling levels of business investment dragged the economy to the worst quarter for five years, official statisticians have said.

The Office for National Statistics confirmed its previous estimate that GDP growth slumped to 0.1% in the first quarter, while sticking to its view that the “beast from the east” had little impact.

The latest figures will further stoke concerns over the strength of the UK economy, amid increasing signals for deteriorating growth as Britain prepares to leave the EU next year. Some economists, including officials at the Bank of England, thought the growth rate would be revised higher as more data became available. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/may/25/uk-economy-posts-worst-quarterly-gdp-figures-for-five-years

And does our LEP have a plan B … er, apparently not.

[Somerset] “Tory council at risk of bankruptcy calls for funding system fix”

Owl says: “Hissing” in the wind! Our unelected and unaccountable Local Enterprise Partnership now controls the vast amount of money in both counties!

“A Tory-controlled local authority has called on ministers to fix a “broken” system of council funding after it emerged its deteriorating finances mean it is at serious risk of going bust.

Somerset county council has been told that large overspends on children’s social services, coupled with reduced government funding and the erosion of its reserves, have left its finances “in a very challenging position”.

A formal peer review says any failure to meet its ambitious financial savings targets for the current year would leave the council at risk of being unable to set a balanced budget within months – in effect leaving it at risk of insolvency.

The county, which has already announced unpopular plans to close two-thirds of its Sure Start children’s centres, more than half of its libraries and make big reductions to its learning disability services, must now find further cuts.

There has been heightened concern over the sustainability of local authority finances since Northamptonshire county council declared effective bankruptcy in February. It was subsequently taken over by government commissioners.

A spokesperson for Somerset county council said: “There are clearly pressures on our budgets, as there is on local authority budgets up and down the country as government funding falls and demand grows.

“The recent peer review report found many positives and areas of success. It also concluded that we understand the financial challenges we face and that we can meet them.

“We believe the system by which local government is funded is broken and call on the government to address this as a priority as part of its fair funding review [of local government finance].”

Somerset says it is confident that it will not follow Northamptonshire into insolvency. Despite serious challenges – including a target of £17m in cuts for children’s social care this year – it says it is committed to meeting savings targets.

But the review makes it clear that the county has struggled to deliver planned savings for two years, and has been reliant on reserves to patch up its budgets. “For the last two years only 65% of agreed savings have been delivered and whilst there may be specific reasons for this, this level of delivery is simply unsustainable in the future.”

Somerset, which has an annual budget of around £316m, has made around £130m of savings since 2010. It believes the forthcoming green paper into social care funding and the fair funding review hold the key to its survival.

The National Audit Office warned this year that several councils were using up “rainy day” reserves to prop up services. It estimated up to 15 councils are at risk of going bust when their reserves are exhausted.

Jane Lock, the leader of Somerset’s opposition Liberal Democrat group, blamed the council’s predicament on its decision to freeze council tax for six years after 2010, despite swingeing national cuts in funding, and at a time when austerity measures were increasing demand on services.

She said: “The reason Somerset has got to here is quite simply the political ideology that they would refuse to put up council tax. That’s left a £26m hole in the budget.”

Simon Edwards, the director of the County Councils Network, said: “County authorities face a toxic cocktail of having rising demand for services, being the lowest funded upper-tier councils, and the impact of having the sharpest reductions in government funding by the end of the decade.”

He added: “With demand continuing to rise amid funding reductions, the reality is that councils of all sizes and colours will face similar situations in the future, unless a sustainable solution is found by government.”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/may/18/tory-council-at-risk-of-bankruptcy-slams-broken-funding-system

“Consult on extending FOI to private sector providers of public services: watchdog”

Owl says: can’t come a moment too soon for EDDC, Ccou table/Integrated Care System companies and our Local Enterprise Partnership!

“The Committee for Standards in Public Life has called for a consultation on whether the Freedom of Information Act should apply to private sector providers where information relates to the performance of a public service contract.

In its latest report, The Continuing Importance of Ethical Standards for Public Service Providers, the CSPL said there had been little real progress on measures to enforce ethical standards in outsourced public services.
It urged the government, service providers and professionals to do more to encourage robust cultures of ethical behaviour in public service delivery.
Lord Bew, Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said: “From waste disposal to health care and probation services, all kinds of public services are routinely supplied to many of us by private or voluntary sector organisations, paid for with public funds – accounting for almost one third of government spending in 2017.

“The public is clear that they expect common ethical standards – whoever is delivering the service – and that when things go wrong there is transparency and accountability about what has happened.”

Lord Bew said that, “disappointingly”, very little progress had been made on implementing the recommendations in the CSPL’s 2014 report, Ethical standards for providers of public services. He added that evidence showed that most service providers needed to do more to demonstrate best practice in ethical standards.

“In particular, we remain concerned over the lack of internal governance and leadership on ethical standards in those departments with significant public service contracts. Departmental and management boards spend little, if any, time considering ethical considerations and tend to delegate such issues ‘down the line’. Those involved in commissioning and auditing contracts remain too focused on the quantitative rather than the qualitative aspects of their role. And departments lack clear lines of accountability when contracts fail,” the CSPL’s chair said.

He added: “While many service providers have developed a greater awareness of their ethical obligations in recent years, partly due to the high-profile failure of some organisations to adhere to these standards, some remain dismissive of the Nolan Principles or adopt a ‘pick and mix’ approach, which is not in the public interest. And many service providers continue to expect that setting and enforcing ethical standards remain a matter for government alone.”

Lord Bew said the committee remained of the view that more must be done to encourage strong and robust cultures of ethical behaviour in those delivering public services. “To that end, the Committee reaffirms the recommendations made in its 2014 report and has made a further set of more detailed, follow-up recommendations to address particular issues of concern.”

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=35218%3Aconsult-on-extending-foi-to-private-sector-providers-of-public-services-watchdog&catid=59&Itemid=27