Month: September 2017
Shock proposal to close Axe Valley Sixth Form is the result of the ‘reduction in government funding for sixth form provision in schools’
I am shocked to hear of the proposal to close the Sixth Form at Axe Valley College, blamed on the ‘reduction in government funding for sixth form provision in schools’ in the first line of the consultation statement.
Turning the college into an academy, as part of the Vector Learning Trust which runs Holyrood Academy in Chard, was supposed to be a means of saving the Sixth Form, but it obviously has not worked. I look forward to hearing the views of parents and others at this serious blow to local facilities.
After the failure of the July Scrutiny meeting, I am asking Devon County Council to look again at hospital bed closures on 5th October
After the failed Health Scrutiny Committee meeting in July – which has led to repercussions in the County’s Standards and Procedures Committees as well as at EDDC – the full Devon County Council will be asked to look again at the issues on Thursday 5th October. I have proposed the following motion, which Claire Wright will second:
The County Council regrets the failure of the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee on 25 July 2017 to be seen to scrutinise the decision of NEW Devon Clinical Commissioning Group to close community hospital beds in Honiton, Okehampton, Seaton and Whipton, especially in the light of the subsequent urgent recommendation by the head of the NHS in England, Simon Stevens, which is supported by evidence from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and the King’s Fund, that more beds need be made available for the coming winter.
Noting also the Standards Committee’s conclusion that events at the Scrutiny Committee meeting ‘may not reflect well on individual members of the Council or upon the Council as a whole’, its recommendations for the Committee’s Chair and its general recommendations to both members and chairs of Scrutiny Committees, the County Council therefore
- requests the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee to scrutinise those issues identified by the County Solicitor in her paper for 25 July which were not directly and fully addressed at the Scrutiny Committee in that meeting;
- consistent with the Council’s ‘community champion’ role, alerts the Secretary of State to the strength of feeling in the locality at the overall STP process throughout the County and the significant numbers of objections made by the public to the CCG’sproposals and that in the interests of democracy and democratic accountability he might wish to satisfy himself that all relevant process were properly undertaken and assessed and that the CCGs subsequent decisions are supported by the evidence; and
- welcomes the agreement of the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee to examine, subject to the advice of the County Solicitor, means of safeguarding community hospital buildings throughout Devon as facilities for the provision of place-based health services.
Seaton and Axminster – combined health hub?
As I have reported before, Seaton Town Council, the League of Friends and I have been discussing the future of Seaton Hospital in the light of the removal of the beds. Full details of the proposals have not been finalised, so I can only quote the report of Councillor Jack Rowland, Mayor of Seaton, to next Monday’s Town Council:
‘The next campaign is to ensure that the site is retained with a compelling case for retaining the existing services and extending these. To this end I attended a meeting on 6 September to discuss the next steps. I cannot give fuller details at this stage, but broadly the idea is to set up a Steering Committee for an Axe Valley Health Hub and to work in conjunction with Axminster to build a case for retaining both sites with complementary services.’
When will the Heart of the South West Local Economic Partnership (LEP) offer something to small town, rural and coastal Devon?
This was the question I asked Chris Garcia, of the Heart of the South West LEP, when he appeared before the Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Scrutiny Committee (CIRS) at Devon County Council yesterday. Mr Garcia said that Government funding was geared mainly to urban areas, but the LEP has a ‘rural growth commission’ which will publish a report shortly. I shall look out for it.
Mr Garcia didn’t reply, however, to my criticism that the LEP is itself skewed by the ‘white elephant’ new nuclear power station at Hinkley C in Somerset. This project, rashly endorsed by Theresa May who had a chance to halt it, will cause British consumers pay over the odds for electricity for decades to come, based on an unproved type of nuclear station which is not supported even by many who believe nuclear energy is necessary for national energy needs, and in the control of French and Chinese state companies! As renewables get cheaper and electric storage becomes viable, this is a project we don’t need. True, it will bring some jobs to Somerset, but not to most of Devon.
Mr Garcia came with a powerpoint and brandishing the LEP’s latest glossy annual report. I asked that in future, we had proper written reports circulated in advance which members could scrutinise.
Mr Garcia didn’t mention the word ‘devolution’. HoTSW is leaving all that to Devon and Somerset county councils, who apparently now planning to establish a Joint Committee. What that will involve is something else county councillors will need to scrutinise carefully.
I will be a member of a new task group which was set up yesterday to examine congestion and air pollution in the County’s urban areas, especially Exeter. The group was proposed by Exeter Labour County Councillor, Emma Brennan, to the County’s Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Scrutiny Committee (CIRS) on which I sit. I made the point that congestion is partly produced because towns like Seaton are losing town centre shops and public facilities like day centres and community hospital beds, and people from outlying areas like ours are losing bus services into Exeter, all of which force more people into Exeter by car. I shall be pressing for this broad approach to congestion, not just treating it as an urban problem.
The County’s Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Scrutiny Committee (CIRS), on which I sit, has set up a standing Task Group to monitor rural broadband and mobile phone coverage. Roll-out of broadband by Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS), which has public funds to fill the gaps where commercial providers will not go, has been slow, they say because of the providers, and CDS is not sufficiently open to public scrutiny. At the November meeting, East Devon broadband campaigner, Graham Long, complained about the issue being dealt with by a task group which meets in private. I urged the committee to be aware of the frustration felt by those still without access to reliable broadband and the need to be seen to be urgently seeking progress.
Mobile phone coverage is of great concern in Branscombe and other rural parishes in the division. Unfortunately the committee was told that mobile phone providers would not agree to talk to us. However it emerged that the Heart of the South West Local Economic Partnership (LEP) has earmarked £2.5m to address phone coverage issues, although they have not yet decided how.
I have authorised funding for the erection of a Vehicle Activated Sign near Gully Shoot at the western entrance to Colyford – which will flash up ’30, Slow Down’ to anyone driving over the speed limit – from my County Councillor’s Locality Budget. (A similar sign has recently been erected on Seaton Down Hill.)
The Colyford Speedwatch Team, Colyton parish councillors and I have agreed in principle that it is desirable to erect a second VAS at the other end of Colyford. I am paying in full for the first VAS in order to make progress within the current financial year, on the understanding that funding for a second VAS will be a matter for Colyton Parish Council to consider in budgeting for the coming financial year.
I am working with the Speedwatch teams in Colyford and Seaton Down Hill as well as the A35 Action Group in Wilmington to mitigate speeding in the area. At an earlier meeting with Neil Parish MP and Councillor Stuart Hughes, Highways agreed to install a crossing in Colyford and a pedestrian refuge in Seaton Down Hill, as well as to look again at the speed limit on the hill (which we want reduced to 40).
My monthly reports, which include some matters that aren’t posted separately on this blog, are published towards the end of this month on this site, at the same time as they are sent to parish councils for the next month’s meetings. My latest report is just up at seatonmatters.org/monthly-reports/
CCG refuses to give details of NHS cuts, Tories block attempts to record concerns – Claire Wright’s account of yesterday’s Health Scrutiny
Claire Wright, Independent member of Devon’s Health Scrutiny Committee, has given a full account of how the latest meeting revealed the growing crisis in Devon’s NHS, the CCG’s arrogant refusal to give detailed information demanded by councillors, and the obsessive blocking by the committee’s Conservative members of any attempt to record concerns. My proposal about community hospitals, mentioned by Claire at the end of her report, lives for another day, and I will write about it shortly.
I’m making a new proposal to safeguard community stakes in community hospitals, tomorrow at Health Scrutiny
Community hospitals in Devon have always been built and maintained with a high degree of community involvement and support. In many cases, local communities took the initiative to build the hospitals and raised substantial part of the original funding, or even the entire funding of additional wings and facilities, as well as contributing to staff and other running costs, the introduction of new specialist services, etc.
Unlike Private Finance Initiatives undertaken in partnership with private companies, these ‘community finance initiatives’ – which sought no profit from their investments other than the improvement of the facilities and services they enabled – appear not to have secured their interests in the hospitals they helped to build. The Leagues of Friends and others who raised funds for hospitals trusted that their investments would continue to be used for the benefit of place-based health services in their local area.
Since the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, however, the organisation of the NHS has changed and the ownership of NHS buildings is in the process of being transferred to a new company, NHS Property Services, wholly owned by the Secretary of State and charged with managing the NHS estate in line with national priorities. NHS Property Services is enabled to sell off parts of the estate and to charge NHS organisations market rents for their use of NHS buildings.
This change creates dilemmas for local communities which have invested in Devon community hospitals. Clearly Leagues of Friends and other local bodies, including town and parish councils as representatives of communities which have raised large amounts of funding, can be considered ‘stakeholders’ in community hospitals. However these community stakeholders appear not to possess formal rights in the ownership and governance of the hospitals.
The proposal is that the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny undertake an investigation into
1. The changing ownership and governance of community hospitals in Devon and its implications.
2. The historic and ongoing contributions of local communities and Leagues of Friends to funding the hospitals.
The purpose of this investigation would be to address the question of
3. How community stakeholders’ interests should be secured in the future governance of community hospitals.
It is envisaged that in the course of this investigation, the Committee would both collect evidence and invite expressions of views from all stakeholders, including both local community organisations and NHS bodies, including NHS Property Services.
I don’t want to comment at length on last week’s confidence vote at EDDC (which I missed while away for a week). I was pleased to hear that there were excellent public speeches, including from Seaton Mayor, Jack Rowland, and that two of Seaton’s councillors, Jim Knight and Peter Burrows, voted ‘no confidence’ in Paul Diviani, whose vote prevented Health Scrutiny from referring the beds decision to the Secretary of State.
I was disappointed to see that our third councillor, Marcus Hartnell, justified support for Diviani, seeing the attacks on him as purely politically motivated (apparently all other local councillors, for Coly Valley, Beer, Trinity and Axminster, also supported Diviani).
I would just like to put on record my belief that no council leader should be able to abandon the communities he represents without paying a high political price. I hope that the no-confidence motion will warn councillors aware that there will be an even greater public reaction, should they fail to block attempts to close any of our community hospitals in the forthcoming CCG Estates Strategy.