Somerset County Council’s Osman and LEP head Garcia very matey in Parliament

Mr Garcia does seem to get about Somerset rather more than he appears in Devon. But then again, Hinkley is in Somerset:

Devolution problems for dummies

“Devolution: the moving of power or a responsibility in a main organisation to a lower level or from a central government to local government”


The moving of power from an elected body of councillors to an unelected small group of business people (Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership) who have their own agendas and pecuniary interests and who are untransparently unaccountable to no-one.

And all being done in secret with no public consultation.

Anyone not understand why people might be critical of this?

Conflicting views on Devon/Somerset devolution

Tories gung-ho on the prospect of East Devon being am ” economic powerhouse”

“An EDDC spokesperson said: “If a successful bid is negotiated with the Government, then it is likely that the strategic importance of East Devon as a prime location for growth, jobs and housing will be recognised and we will see more investment into our local economy.”

Indie more cautious:

Councillor Matt Booth has urged caution on rushing into any deal. The independent ward member for Sidmouth Town told the Herald: “It’s a huge ask and a huge task – it has to fit in with the financial plans of 16 other local authorities.

“I’m not for it. I think that it is just another way for central government to wash its hands of its responsibilities.

“If central government did its job properly, there wouldn’t be any need for devolution.

“But if we do go ahead, then as councillors we need to find a way to keep the process open and a way to bring it back to members.”

Broadband for Devon and Somerset – the (fantasy?) saga continues

As we said before, if Devon and Somerset can’t work together on this, how on earth can they hope to work together successfully on anything else? And DEFINITELY things here for DCC’s Scrutiny Committee!

Press Release from Graham Long
Chairman, B4RDS (Broadband for Rural Devon & Somerset)

This open letter has been emailed (November 22nd), to all Devon & Somerset MP’s, from B4RDS (Broadband for Rural Devon & Somerset), prior to an MP’s meeting in Westminster, Nov 25.

Dear Member of Parliament,

Open letter to all Devon & Somerset MP’s concerning Connecting Devon & Somerset (CDS).

It is my understanding that Keri Denton and CDS Board Members Cllr Andrew Leadbetter plus others will be meeting with Devon & Somerset MP’s on or about Wednesday Nov 25th in Westminster.

You will be told how well the CDS broadband programme is going and be encouraged to secure more money for CDS. You will also be enlisted to help them get special EU State Aid (GBER) approval because of their failure to meet the June 30 umbrella state aid deadline .

THIS PROGRAMME IS OUT OF CONTROL. The attached two B4RDS press releases will give you the background.

Questions you need to ask CDS and CDS Board members are:

1) Why did Keri Denton say “How long is a piece of string?” when asked what the current Phase 2 programme schedule is by the DCC Place Scrutiny Committee on Nov 16? Devon & Somerset are now THE ONLY counties in England not to have a Phase 2 contract in place after they abandoned negotiations with BT in June and then missing the June 30 deadline for EU State Aid approval. CDS are currently unable to give DCC Scrutiny a firm schedule for when they will have a Phase 2 programme in place outside of the two National Parks.

2) Will Phase 2 be completed by the end of 2017? Cameron, Vaizey and Whittingdale have all committed to 95% superfast broadband coverage, nationally, by the end of 2017. There is now a snowballs chance in hell of that deadline being met in Devon & Somerset. On Nov 16, Keri Denton told DCC Scrutiny that she hoped to have Phase 2 in place by the end of 2016. This will mean that having spent two years trying to find suppliers they will give the companies awarded Phase 2 contracts, only 12 months to complete the project. This will not be achieved.

3) Why have CDS & DCC not secured committed Phase 2 match funding from Devon District Councils? When Phase 2 negotiations with BT collapsed in June 2015, CDS was only offering BT £35M for a contract that BDUK estimated would cost £41M to deliver, as shown on the BDUK website. For DCC & SCC to claim that negotiations collapsed because BT was not offering value for money is at best disingenuous and at worst a lie. (After deducting the £4.6M National Parks Airband contract from the fully matched £45.5M [=2x£22.75M] BDUK allocation, £40.9M should have been available to BT, not £35M). Each Somerset District Council committed an average of £500k each but not one Devon District Council committed a penny. As a result the project has stalled. Somerset District Councils now have a seat on the CDS Board as a result, but Devon District Councils remain unrepresented. County and District Councils in every county in the UK have managed to work together on this, with the exception of Devon! Devon & Somerset’s “Devolution Statement of Intent” (Slide 6) has the gall to describe the CDS programme as one of the two counties successes!

4) Why have CDS not obtained any Phase 1 clawback monies from BT? In July the government announced that a total of £129M in clawback payments were being paid back by BT to county run broadband programmes. Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincolnshire and Cambridgshire have already obtained £5.3M, £3.9M, £1.1M and £5.3M respectively in clawback payments from BT. CDS is the largest county run such programme in England and to date has obtained nothing in clawback from BT, which Keri Denton confirmed to DCC Scrutiny on Nov 16. Based on NAO and PAC reports during 2013 & 2014, it is calculated that CDS is due over £9M from BT which can be claimed in advance of reaching the 20% threshold, provided it is reinvested with BT. This is enough to connect another 60,000 properties under Phase 1. In response to the Nov 16 Scrutiny Committee, Keri Denton says that BT have offered to pay back £4.5M to CDS but she then said she did not know how the money was calculated! She must know how it is calculated! – It is in the Phase 1 BT/CDS contract! Even more worrying, the CDS Board Action notes of October 6 (attached – see highlighted text) state that the Board decided not to claim clawback from Phase 1 until after a Phase 2 contract is secured at the end of 2016. WHY? In September, Cllr Andrew Leadbetter told DCC Scrutiny that CDS could do a better job now they do not have the June 30 state aid approval deadline to work to! Do they not understand that people in rural communities are desperate for fast broadband NOW. If there is more money to expand Phase 1 coverage now, why wait until the end of 2016 to claim it? DCMS have shown that the ROI on superfast broadband investment is 20. On HS2, it is 1.7. Investment in broadband is a no-brainer!

If Devon can’t work with Devon on broadband – whither a bigger Devon and Somerset merger?

Press Release from
B4RDS (Broadband for Rural Devon & Somerset)

Asked when Devon & Somerset might have a 95% minimum coverage, Phase 2, superfast broadband programme up and running, during the Nov 16 DCC Place Scrutiny Committee hearing, all that Ms Keri Denton, Programme Director for Connecting Devon & Somerset (CDS) could reply was: “How long is a piece of string”.

This follows the failure of CDS to secure a Phase 2 supplier for rural Devon & Somerset in June 2015, by when all other UK Counties had put their Phase 2 programmes in place. Only Devon & Somerset now remain without a 95% programme in place meaning that rural properties could now be waiting many more years before their broadband speeds improve.

It was also confirmed during the Scrutiny Committee hearing that the reason CDS failed to agree a Phase 2 contract with BT in June was because not one District Council in Devon was prepared to commit the match funding that CDS needed to draw down £22.75M from central government for the programme, although every District Council in Somerset had committed their match funding contributions. The failure of Devon County and District Councils to work together on this means that not only Devon’s rural taxpayers, but also those in Somerset, have now scheduled date for when their broadband service, often with speeds below 2Mbps might improve. Having committed match funding, Somerset Districts now have their own board representative on the CDS Project Board from which Devon Districts remain excluded. With many Scrutiny Committee members being District as well as County Councillors, Ms Denton asked for their help to get Devon Districts into the programme.

The current best estimate as to how long a piece of string may be seems to be July 2016, which will be over a year after all other UK Counties secured their Phase 2 funding and got the project underway. Government ministers still talk about all the UK having 95% superfast (>24Mbps) coverage by the end of 2017, but by July 2016, CDS will have spent two and a half years trying to put a Phase 2 contract in place and next July they will only give the chosen suppliers 18 months to deliver the project. The end of 2017 now looks like a target that will be missed.

While Devon County and District Councils continue to fail to work with each other on Superfast broadband, businesses prepare to more out of rural areas to the towns because they cannot keep their website shop windows up to date at 2Mbps and rural houses become impossible to sell when prospective buyers learn they will get no more than 2Mbps from their ISP’s.

Note to Editors:
A webcast of the Nov 16 Place Scrutiny Committee hearing is on line at (Move slider to 2.40.30 in)

Somerset council cuts catastrophic

Westcountry council has frozen ‘non-essential’ spending saying their financial situation is even worse than anticipated and it is ‘living beyond its means.’

In an email sent to staff, Somerset County Council chief executive Pat Flaherty blamed austerity measures for a projected overspend, adding the authority could not cut into reserves which were already at the absolute minimum.

He said that as a result, vacancies would not be filled unless absolutely necessary, buildings would be maintained to the bare, safe minimum standards and other measures would be taken in non-statutory areas.

Unions have reacted angrily to the move, saying they’re is ‘no more meat on the bone’ in the authority which has had to cut £100million from its budget in four years.

In his email, which has been seen by the Western Morning News, Mr Flaherty said it was no secret that setting the budget was going to be hard.

However, he added: “Over the recent months and weeks the detail of just how difficult it is going to be has got clearer.

“Sadly, the clearer the picture gets, the worse it looks.

“We all know the root causes of this – continued austerity and ever growing demand on our services, especially those for vulnerable children and adults.”

Mr Flaherty said “the fact is we are continuing to live beyond our means” and unless “we turn a corner on spending” the council will be up to £8 million overspent by the end of the year.

He said: ” This would be unacceptable as it would deplete our already minimal reserves. We therefore need to take urgent action on the spend that we do have control over.”

He said he knew the step would not be popular and praised the work of staff that doesn’t readily fit under the heading of a statutory service.

“What I am saying does not devalue that work, it simply accepts the painful reality that this council has to reduce its spending immediately if we are to be able to fulfil our statutory requirements to support the most vulnerable people in our communities,” said.

Oliver Foster-Burnell, regional organiser for Unison, said areas like services for the homeless were already suffering.

“Here in Somerset the County Council have just announced proposals that are set to see £900,000 removed from funding given to homeless services, the impact of that on the local community will be huge and costs will be felt by other authorities like the police and social Services.”

He said that the council’s announcement means that it will now look closely at how it responds to things that it regards as non-essential services across the County.

“There is just no more meat that can come off the bone here in Somerset,” he said.

“Our members have seen restructures, redundancies, changes in working practices and our message to Government is that enough is enough.

“The council has stated it is set to overspend by £7 million, its overspend within other areas like children’s social care is set to reach £11 million by the end of this financial year and the council is already using its reserves to pay for that.”

In a statement issued to the WMN, Mr Flaherty said he had make sure the council balanced its books.

“We have to legally, and this is very difficult when our funding is being cut so dramatically and there is more demand for what we do.”

He said any overspend would cut away at reserves, which were already at the minimum recommended for a council of its size and budget.

“That minimum is there for a reason and I cannot put this authority in a position where it does not have the ability to respond to unforeseen costs.”

He said that while funding was falling, the demand for services was increasing.

“Demographic pressure alone is going to add around £5m to our costs next year alone,” said Mr Flaherty.

“Living within our means is challenging but it’s something we have to do.”

It’s official: Devon and Somerset councils plan to merge: whither EDDC’s new HQ?

“Councillors from across Devon and Somerset have agreed on a joint devolution bid to secure greater control over skills, growth and employment in the region.

The decision follows a summit of county, unitary and district council chiefs in Exeter today, which brought local authorities one step closer to a devolution deal for the region.

Current plans propose an organisation based on the boundaries of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), with a focus on economic development and job creation.

Commenting on the progress, Devon County Council leader John Hart said the level of agreement had been “very encouraging”.

“It’s important that we present a united front to the Government,” he said.

“I have always said that we can do things more effectively and more efficiently locally than being told what to do by London.

“The big themes we hope to focus on are on skills, economic growth and improving productivity, as well as infrastructure so we can ensure our road and rail network is more resilient than it has been in the past.

“Doing the very best for our older residents by coordinating health and social care and affordable homes for our young people are also key themes.”

The announcement follows the confirmation of a devolution offer for Cornwall last month – the first non-urban deal of its kind.

LEP chief executive Chris Garcia was at the meeting, along with leaders from Devon’s eight district councils and Torbay mayor Gordon Oliver.

Councillors have previously indicated a bid could involve a “double devolution” model, under which the counties and unitary authorities would receive powers from central government and pass them down – where appropriate – to districts.

There has also been discussion of “soft” boundaries which would enable different parts of the region to reach individual devolution deals while still collaborating with neighbouring authorities.

The next round of devolution applications are due for submission in September.”

Devon and Somerset county merger “not ruled out” by Somerset

According to a tweet by Martyn Oates, BBC Political Correspondent today:

“.@SomersetCouncil leader @JDOsman1 on single authority for Dev & Som: Everything’s a possibility – Govt want single point of accountability.
10:15 AM – 5 Aug 2015

That could lead to a merged Somerset and Devon having to deal with the consortium currently consisting of Exeter, East Devon and Teignbridge!

Whither EDDC HQ then one wonders … whither ANY district council’s HQ come further amalgamation and/or devolution!

What a potential mess – from the government which originally refused to allow Devon to become a unitary authority and the district council (East Devon) that spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on refusing to merge with ANYONE back in 2007!