EDDC: “Relocation cost, No Deal Brexit, electric charging points and climate change motions rejected from being discussed”

Owl says: remember, the Chief executive, Mark Williams, is supposed to be a NEUTRAL civil servant and yet ALL of the refused motions are from ALL the minority groups ONLY……!

“Motions to support recycling, to call for a new property ombudsman to streamline complaints against shoddy builders, and for East Devon to get its fair share of the police precept rise will be discussed at next Wednesday’s full council meeting.

But motions over the full relocation costs of the move from Sidmouth to Honiton, to put electric charging points in all car parks, what to prioritise in a ‘No Deal’ Brexit and on climate change will not be discussed.

Various motions that councillors had put forward for debate at East Devon District Council’s full council meeting on Wednesday, February, were rejected by the council’s chief executive, as either the agenda already provides the opportunity for debate or the wording of the motions were inaccurate.

RELOCATION

Cllr Cathy Gardner had proposed a motion calling for the council to commit to publish an annual ‘summary of accounts’ for the relocation project until break-even is reached as relocation from Sidmouth to Honiton was proposed and predicated on the basis that the project would breakeven within 20 years and deliver cost-savings to the council tax payers of East Devon.

Cllr Gardner said: “Whilst some of this information is already available we feel it is vital for the ongoing costs to be published to show confidence that this project will breakeven. A majority of Councillors voted for relocation on the basis that money would be saved on energy bills. We are left unsure of whether breakeven will ever be proven.”

But an EDDC spokesman said: “The rejected motion contained inaccuracies and omissions that had the potential to mislead councillors and it was also premature. It is however proposed to bring a report to the next meeting of the Cabinet that will summarise the position reached with regard to the sale of the Knowle and the relocation. Cllr Gardner can raise the matters she is concerned about as part of the debate into that report.”

The motion would have called for the accounts to include

energy costs for the Knowle for the past 20 years (for comparison);

energy costs for both Blackdown House and Exmouth Town Hall per year;
the capital receipt for the sale of the Knowle;

a Red Book valuation of Blackdown House as of 1 March 2019;

the full costs for the relocation project since its inception, including: project management; removal, furnishing and equipment;

staff retraining and travel expenses;

new-build costs for Blackdown House; refurbishment costs for Exmouth Town Hall; and any other associated costs.”

CLIMATE CHANGE

Cllr Matthew Booth’s motion had called for the council to recognise that Climate Change and Global Warming are the key issues of our time, to acknowledge the strong concerns of young people in particular the recent walk out of school children and for the council to commit to introducing a policy of carbon measurement and reduction within all aspects of its own activity.

He said: “I personally do not care how we begin to do this, or who does it, but that we act now not wait for some planned strategy in the future.”

An EDDC spokesman said that the issue of climate change emergency is acknowledged to be of critical importance but that it would be appropriate to wait to see what Devon County Council decides. They added: “Currently, however, the County Council is considering its position and will shortly debate the matter. As we are in a two tier area it is appropriate for the District Council to assess the position taken by the upper tier authority and then respond accordingly. The public would expect us to work in partnership with the County Council rather than unilaterally.”

ELECTRIC VEHICLE CHARGING

Cllr Eleanor Rylance had submitted a motion calling for the council to plan for and implement over the next five years a full rolling renovation programme of its car parks estates to fit and bring into operation electrical charging points at every space for domestic cars, and cycle parks with charging points for all types of cycle and that there should be mandatory EV charging points for the parking spaces of every new-built house in East Devon.

She added: “This council should approach the future of electrically-powered domestic vehicles with enthusiasm and proactivity, play a positive role in helping develop the use of electrical and should make this infrastructure, that will be a necessity within the next ten years, available in advance of full electrification of domestic vehicles in 2042.

But an EDDC spokesman said: ““The agenda already provides an opportunity for this issue to be raised so this motion was inappropriate.”

BREXIT

Cllr Rylance had also submitted a motion that said in the event of a No Deal Brexit or a version of Brexit that causes significant disruption, the council should approach this event as a situation of emergency in respect of its most vulnerable residents, dedicating any available human, material and financial resources required to palliate any negative outcomes for these groups, but the motion was rejected.

Talking about all the motions, a council spokesman said: “The council agenda for February contains the most important annual decision, namely the setting of the budget and the approval of the Council Tax for the forthcoming year. The process leading to this meeting has included several meetings where members were encouraged to raise all items of future relevance so these could be assessed as part of our service planning process and for assessment as part of the budget.

“It is unfortunate that some members did not take these opportunities and have chosen instead to submit their proposed motions.

“It is also noted that the wording of the motions was not checked in advance with relevant officers who would have been able to give timely advice as to their wording.”

But motions on the police precept, protection for new home owners and supporting recycling will be discussed.

POLICING

Cllr Tom Wright’s motion says: “In view of the £24 per band D property increase in policing precept, this council urges the Chief Constable to recognise the needs of East Devon when deciding how to allocate extra resources. East Devon residents are the biggest contributors to the police budget in Devon, other than Plymouth. It is only fair that we should get a fair share of the larger cake.”

NEW HOMES

Cllr Douglas Hull’s motion says: “The Government has stated that it would therefore be introducing as a priority a new property ombudsman to streamline complaints against shoddy builders. As a council that not only provides an excellent and highly regarded building control service but also has seen significant levels of new building in its district, we call on the government to fulfil its pledge to provide this much needed remedy for homeowners as a matter of the highest priority.”

RECYCLING

Cllr Peter Burrows’ motion says: “This Council continues to support the fine work done by the EDDC Recycling team in achieving the best results in Devon and to support and encourage local Organisations and voluntary groups who are involved in trying to reduce the amount of single use plastics used in their communities & beaches by making resources and expertise available, where appropriate. The order of priority should be – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. To actively help promote such activities through the Councils social media platforms.”

The full council meeting will be held at East Devon District Council’s new Honiton Heathpark HQ on February 27 at 6pm.”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/relocation-cost-no-deal-brexit-2557565

“Knowlegate”: Del-Boy and the Trotters spring to mind – but just the fools (no horses that we know of)

“East Devon District Council’s senior management team have been rebuked by scrutiny councillors after failing to consider the public perception over the sell-off of assets from their former Knowle HQ.

The council this week completed its move from its former Sidmouth home at the Knowle, to Exmouth town hall and the new Honiton Heathpark HQ, and as part of the move, they had to find homes for various items that are unsuitable for its new building.

But a furore erupted just before Christmas when it was first revealed that council staff and members, but not the general public, were given the chance to bid on various items, and then when an email was leaked claiming a councillor managed to buy a large mahogany dining table and 20 chairs for £50 at the internal staff auction, instead of allowing it to be publicly auctioned for the best possible price.

A council spokesman had said that this leaked information was totally incorrect with the bid being for £400 and only including some of the chairs, and that the bid was withdrawn when Exmouth Town Council, who initially declined the offer of the table originally, changed their view just before Christmas and are now expected to take ownership of the table.

Cllr Ian Thomas, Leader of East Devon District Council, had previously said in a statement: “Our council relocation team has been working with professional auctioneers, Sidmouth Town Museum, charities and clearance specialists, to value and dispose of a wide range of items from our old East Devon District Council offices at The Knowle in Sidmouth.

“As part of this process, we offered our staff and elected members the chance to bid for items that may be of sentimental interest or practical use, but are of negligible commercial value.

“The value of items to be disposed were identified based on the view of experienced professionals. They included the large table from the Members area, which attracted little professional interest with one valuer estimate of just £50.

“All proceeds from this sale and those raised from other sales will go to the Chairman’s Civic Fund, to be donated to nominated charities.”

East Devon District Council’s scrutiny committee considered the disposal of the contents of the Knowle at their meeting last Thursday.

Richard Cohen, the Deputy Chief Executive, produced a report that outlined the process of disposal of items from the Knowle prior to handover to PegasusLife for demolition.

He said: “As part of that process and prior to the handover of the old office buildings to the developer, the council needs to clear the buildings. In total there are just over 2,600 separate items in the Knowle.

“The vast majority of these are office furniture: desks, chairs, cabinets etc of varying ages, condition and size. There are also a number of particular items of varying antiquity and value: these involve both furnishings and fixture and fittings. From a perspective of bulk disposal the estimated total weight of all these items is 45 metric tonnes.”

He outlined that Sidmouth Museum and Sidmouth Town Council were both interested in re-home various items, multiple local auction houses were invited in to look over items but that the majority of items were not of interest to them, and that for remaining items an opportunity was offered for council staff and members to bid for items whether for practical or aesthetic reasons.

He said: “These were items that had been attributed little or no sale value by the various professional auctioneers and ranged from standard office furniture items to cupboards, upholstered furnishings, tables, curtains for example. This element of the disposal process involves around seventy separate items and is likely to raise of the order of £2,000 for the Chairman’s chosen charities.”

Mr Cohen added that groups such as Action East Devon, Green Furniture Aid and Hospicare who are all either networked with voluntary groups or can sell furniture via charity outlets were asked whether they had an interest in some of the for the more generic items such desks, chairs and tables, but the response has been largely muted.

Town and parish councils will also be contacted asking them whether they have an interest in any items with the requirement that they transport said items away themselves, he added.

But councillors said that contrary to what Mr Cohen said, a full list of the items for disposal had not been circulated to them.

Scrutiny committee chairman Cllr Roger Giles said: “There has not been a list that we have seen so could someone produce a list that will be circulated very soon.” He also asked wat do town and parish councils know about the process, as the answer he had heard from them is nothing.

Cllr Cathy Gardner added: “Why was the full explanation of the process not circulated to members before we were given the chance to bid for items? The reason there was a furore around the subject as the offer of sale of items internally was offered in isolation and the lack of communication meant there was a lack of understanding of the wider process that this sat.”

Her recommendation, which the scrutiny committee backed unanimously, was that they remind the senior management team of the council to always consider the public perception of actions taken, particularly when it is involves public assets, and the disposal of public assets.

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/council-management-team-rebuked-over-2545040

“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

Information Commissioner wants Freedom of Information Act extended to outsourced companies

“The Information Commissioner has called for the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR) to be updated to include organisations providing a public function.

In a report to Parliament, ‘Outsourcing Oversight? The case for reforming access to information law’, Elizabeth Denham said: “In the modern age, public services are delivered in many ways by many organisations. Yet not all of these organisations are subject to access to information laws.

“Maintaining accountable and transparent services is a challenge because the current regime does not always extend beyond public authorities and, when it does, it is complicated. The laws are no longer fit for purpose.”

She added: “Urgent action is required because progress has been too slow. It is now time to act. This report sets out solutions that can extend the law to make it fit for the modern age.”

Denham said the main aim her report was to make an evidence-based case to extend the reach of FOIA and the EIR “to enable greater transparency and accountability in modern public services, which in turn improves services”.
The Commissioner said in the report that she would welcome a Parliamentary Inquiry via a select committee into the issues raised. The ICO has submitted the report to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and PACAC for their consideration. …”

http://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php

Councils relied too much on informal cabinet briefings: contract legality now being probed

“A CATALOGUE of errors detailing how two district councils were run have been exposed in a ‘gobsmacking’ report.

Initial findings from an investigation into contracts signed by Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire district councils between 2010 to 2016 show councillors’ knowledge was stymied by a ‘lack of information’.

The two councils are conducting reviews into several contracts after fears were raised last year that contracts could have been handed out improperly.

All of them have a value of or more than £10,000. Between the two councils, there are 162 of those in total.

A report also highlights there was an ‘over reliance’ on briefing cabinet members informally, rather than decisions being made at public cabinet or council meetings.

‘A lack of detail’ was also found to be a problem in papers for those cabinet briefings and at cabinet meetings.

The review also found there was ‘poor procedural compliance by officers and members, most notably in documenting decision making’.

Debby Hallett, Lib Dem councillor on Vale council and former group leader, said the ‘gobsmacking’ papers seemed to indicate a ‘culture of sloppiness and shortcuts’ over key contracts.

But she added: “The thing that surprised me is [the councils] have promised to have this done by March, which is putting this in the public domain before the local elections [in May].”

That, she said, showed the councils’ willingness to conduct the reviews in a spirit of ‘transparency and integrity’.

Adrianna Partridge, the councils’ head of corporate service, notes in the report: “This review has identified a significant risk that the councils have incurred expenditure that has not been adequately approved in accordance with the councils’ constitutions, which could have both financial and reputational risk.”

In the report which will go to the councils’ joint audit and governance committee on Monday, she states: “Action has already been taken to address and strengthen the decision making process on individual projects, and it is acknowledge that a greater transparency is needed, including an increase in the number of formal papers taken to cabinet and full council which the senior management team is enforcing.”

The councils have set aside a budget of £30,000 for legal advice if they need to take any action over contracts in the future.

Confidential papers will be discussed next week.

They are understood to refer to specific details of the councils’ eight to 10 contracts which are being reviewed.

https://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/17377868.gobsmacking-errors-in-how-oxfordshire-councils-awarded-contracts/

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

Knowle Flog It: statement raises more questions than answers

An “explanation” of the Knowle Flog It fiasco appears in today’s Sidmouth Herald. It appears to be printed verbatim from a council statement.

Owl wonders why this statement was printed without challenging some of its very, very vague claims – one hesitates to use the word ‘facts’. “Journalism”? Not as Owl knows it!

Guess some answers MIGHT come from the Freedom of Information request by an Exmouth resident on 8 January 2019:
https://eastdevonwatch.org/2019/01/10/the-knowle-flog-it-scandal-rumbles-on/

In the meantime:

Amongst Owl’s questions:

It seems Councillor Skinner paid £400 for the table he wanted so urgently – earlier reports mentioned it being valued at a very low price, much lower than £400. Which is correct? And including just how many chairs?

Who decided on the “three disposal methods? It does not appear to be the Asset Management Group.

Which councillors have bought items? Have they declared these on their Registers of Interest?

Which groups were offered ‘free’ items, how were they chosen and by whom? Have any of these groups taken items – and if so, which groups and how much did they pay for them?

What exactly is the Chairman’s Civic Fund and how and when has it been used recently and in the past? What are its rules? Who oversees the disbursements?

Which local groups and charities will be able to bid for what is left after officers and councillors have taken their pick? How have they been chosen and by whom?

Are internal and external auditors happy with the procedures?

Will the Scrutiny Committee be scrutinising these actions?

Owl is sure readers have many more questions!