Month: June 2019

After Monday’s 100-strong protest made TV headlines, today the fight for Colyton fire station goes to the Fire Authority. Paul Arnott and I have written to all the authority members, while I’ve raised the Authority’s plans at the County Council

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IMG_1220The fight to save Colyton’s fire station has accelerated. On Monday I joined a protest of over 100 people, making the headlines on TV news, while over 1200 people have signed an online petition in the last 6 days. As a delegation heads today to the Fire Authority’s meeting which will decide whether to proceed with the consultation, Paul Arnott, district councillor for Coly Valley, and I have written to all members of the Fire Authority urging them to refuse the closure proposals.

On Tuesday I also got the County Council’s Scrutiny Committee to invite the Fire Authority to our next meeting in September to justify any proposals they agree. Colyton campaigners will be able to present their views to the committee.

Letter to Fire Authority members:

Dear Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service Authority Member
We are writing to all councillors on the Authority in relation to your meeting this Friday to discuss endorsing the closure of 8 fire stations and a proposed subsequent consultation over the “options” about how this would be enacted. Thank you for your time taken in considering our points below.
We wish to urge you to refuse to agree to these closure proposals at your meeting and to cancel the consultation. Our experience in similar matters is that the consultation phase of any such process is less about seeking enlightenment from the public and more about lending legitimacy to a done deal.
We advocate here in particular on behalf of the Colyton Fire Station, whose staff we know and admire:
• The 12 retained firefighters include 3 women, one as a senior manager, and another woman ready to fill the next vacancy. This is well in excess of the D&SF&RS average which stands at 5%
• The Colyton pump often takes part in call-outs to fire and traffic incidents in co-operation with other Axe Valley stations at Axminster and Seaton. It is a fact that the number of homes across the Axe Valley will increase hugely in the next few years. Axminster is subject to a “Masterplan” with a thousand new homes in mind. Seaton is outside the AONB and still has capacity for hundreds more houses. Colyton, under the 2018 EDDC Villages Development Plan, is one of a handful of settlements in the district required to take new housing. A number of major schemes are in the pipeline in Colyton, including the Homes England plan for 70 homes at the old Ceramtec factory, and the Town Mill development of 8 light industrial units. In short, the demand for a local fire service is about to boom across the Axe Valley. This is not the time to cut.
• The Colyton fire station has a unique skillset having to cover an ancient Tannery, many thatched houses and listed buildings, and remote village settlements along difficult and narrow lanes in places such as Shute, Whitford, Musbury, Umborne, Northleigh and, Southleigh. It is the only station in the area to possess the higher SHACS level 2 qualification to execute a Safety and Height Ability in Confined Spaces operation.
• We are very alarmed at the nature of some of the evidence being provided in support of the argument for closure. To take just one example, the station profile for Colyton states that a Colyton pump cannot reach Seaton within 10 minutes. Yet the station profile for Seaton states that its own pump can reach Colyton within 10 minutes. The disparity between these two assertions gives little confidence in the care being taken with the evidence base presented to councillors on the authority in making such a crucial decision. It is also obvious that insufficient analysis has been done to identify and respect the extraordinary specifically local skills and knowledge which will be lost if this process is executed.
We are certain that our views expressed here reflect those of the great majority of Colyton and Colyford people, and again urge you to refuse to endorse the proposed plan. 
With thanks again.
Yours sincerely
Paul Arnott (District Councillor, Coly Valley) Martin Shaw (County Councillor, Seaton & Colyton)

Local Tory councillor backs Johnson for PM – let’s not forget that Tiverton was the first place that he was booed after his deceitful, racist campaign in 2016

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Stuart Hughes and Boris Johnson

The Sidmouth Herald reports that Conservative Councillor Stuart Hughes, who was recently elected as Chair of East Devon District Council with ‘Independent’ support, has backed Boris Johnson to lead the Conservative Party and be the next PM. It seems the right moment to remind ourselves that Johnson visited Tiverton on 1 July 2016, eight days after the EU referendum, he was booed and branded a ‘liar’ by protestors. Watch the Daily Telegraph video to the end, where a man asks Johnson to apologise to a friend who had suffered racial abuse due to the Leave campaign, and another calls him ‘a massive child’. Those people in Tiverton three years ago still speak for many of us as the Tories prepare to impose Johnson on the country.

Beer Men’s Shed crowdfunder passes £2000 mark: £500 more needed before EDDC will double their funding

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Beer Men's ShedThe project says: ‘Thanks to kind donations from individuals, from Beer Bag Project and from Devon County Council, and with the help of our local councillors Martin Shaw and Geoff Pook, we’ve now raised over £2,000 towards buying our first shed and the equipment and workbenches to go inside it.  Our next target is to get beyond the £2,500 mark, because when we achieve that we’re hoping that East Devon District Council will commit to providing us funding too by doubling our money.  We have just over 4 weeks to go to raise a total of £10,000 so that Beer Men’s Shed can have it’s new shed built and operational this summer.’ YOU CAN DONATE HERE.

Report to be presented to Tuesday’s Health Scrutiny meeting shows Devon NHS continuing to let down patients with cancer and those needing ‘elective’ surgery. Where is the urgency to improve patients’ experience, when they are faced with life-threatening and life-changing conditions?

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A report to be discussed on Tuesday provides alarming evidence that the NHS in Devon is continuing to fail patients with serious conditions, both cancer patients and patients who require what is classified as ‘elective’ surgery. On both counts, Devon yet again scores worse than the national average.

It shouldn’t need emphasising that with cancer, delays cost lives. With many other conditions, delays cause needless weeks and months of additional pain and suffering, with serious impacts on patients and their families.

The Government’s long-term failure to fund the NHS is primarily responsible, and staff shortages – exacerbated by Brexit (which is driving away European doctors and nurses) -make the situation worse.

Yet it is difficult not to feel that Devon’s NHS leaders (in the Sustainability and Transformation Partnership) are complacent about these failings. Once more, damning figures are buried in the middle of a report whose main focus is the overall Winter experience in 2018-19.

Where is the urgency to improve patients’ experience of our NHS, when they faced with life-threatening and life-changing conditions? When will the Health Scrutiny committee call the NHS to account for these failings?


Cancer – time to treatment  ‘Performance against national cancer waiting times standards for first definitive treatment within 62 days for urgent referrals showed significant variation throughout the year, with performance at Devon level consistently failing to meet national targets.’

Over the year, the figure varied from 68.4 to 80.2 per cent, against a national target of 85 per cent.

Cancer – time to see specialist  ‘The time taken for patients to see a specialist after urgent referral for a suspected cancer within 2 weeks of an urgent referral improved during Winter, with overall performance at Devon level reaching an in-year high-point of 89.5%, but still failing to meet the national target of 94% of patients being seen within 2 weeks of urgent referral.’

In fact, the figures show that March 2019 was the best month of the last year, during which the figure varied from 80 to 89.5%.

Referrals to treatment within 18 weeks ‘We continued to see a deterioration in the proportion of people being referred to treatment within 18 weeks, dropping to 80.5% by the end of the year.’



Is there a future for Devon’s libraries? My article for the new Devonshire Magazine

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My article in the Summer issue of Devonshire Magazine:

After a decade of austerity, libraries are one of the success stories that our County Council likes to tell. As another shire county, Derbyshire, hands over all its libraries to local communities, Devon still has fifty branches across the county. The Council handed over the service in 2017 to the mutual Libraries Unlimited, but still provides the bulk of the funding. However Libraries Unlimited’s charitable status has enabled it to win funding from other bodies and – if we are to believe the publicity – do more for less. 

Libraries Unlimited’s vision is to ‘reach beyond libraries’ traditional book lending role’ to look at broader ‘ways in which libraries support individuals and communities’. Highlights include ‘fab labs’ in Exeter and Barnstaple – which allow users to ‘print t-shirts, design and produce 3D prints, make beautiful embroidered designs’, etc. – and an Exeter business information centre where workshops, one-to-one advice sessions and ‘inspiring’ talks take place. Of course libraries in smaller towns and villages don’t have these things, but the aim is to turn them into community centres, hosting local events and increasingly run by local community volunteers. 


We’re told this is a win-win situation. Library users keep their core service and exciting new developments take place, while financial pressure is lifted from the hard-pressed council. However when we look beneath the surface, there are troubling areas in Devon’s library service and big uncertainties about the future. 

Libraries Unlimited has a new chair, Professor William Harvey of Exeter University; a new chief executive, Alex Kittow, takes over on 1st June 2019. So I offer a critical perspective in the hope that the new team will recognise the seriousness of the challenge they face. At its heart is not just a different vision of the library of the future, but whether Devon’s libraries have a longer-term future at all. 

The question is how far ‘beyond’ their traditional book-centred role our libraries can go before – especially in smaller communities – they are no are longer viable libraries. The new developments would be fine to supplement well-resourced book-lending libraries. But what happens when managers are putting their energies into raising grants for innovation, while funding for books declines? 

The evidence, as measured by the library service itself, is sobering. When the figures for book (and other) loans in 2018/19 are released, it’s likely that they will have fallen by 50 per cent over the last decade: only half the number of books that were being taken out of Devon libraries ten years ago are being taken out today. And that’s the average; in many smaller libraries the downturn is far greater. Particularly alarming, children’s book issues, which were holding much steadier, have fallen drastically in the last couple of years (see graph below)

Devon Libraries children's loansDevon’s libraries have seen a modest rise in issues of e-books, but small in numbers compared to the drop in issues of ‘real’ books. People like the convenience of e-readers when they go on holiday, but despite the enthusiasm for digital a decade back, the traditional paper version still dominates. In the USA and Australia, libraries haven’t seen the crippling cuts we’ve had under austerity in the UK, and they are thriving.

Tipping point?

The danger is that we may have reached a tipping point at which the failure to renew the library stock is seriously driving away readers. A constituent told me, ‘I’m an avid reader and I used to go to the library every week. But I’ve read everything they’ve got and they just don’t get the new releases.’ Some libraries are taking donations of books from local people; while the gifts are laudable, they’re no substitute for a professionally curated, up-to-date library stock.

If these trends continue, it would be rash to bet against a Derbyshire-style clearout in the not-too-distant future. I’m sure that neither the County libraries team nor Libraries Unlimited wish that, but the time has come for everyone to recognise where the crisis in the book stock could lead. Communities should demand proper local provision, and the Council should halt its inexorable funding cuts.

Instead of going to the library, my constituent was looking for bargains on Amazon. But that’s no substitute for a proper local library, especially for our children. What if the next generation never get the reading bug which their parents and grandparents got from their local community library? We will all be the poorer.

Latest funding information for local organisations, from the County Council

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DCC logoLatest Devon Funding News Updates published by the Devon Economy, Enterprise and Skills Service.

05-06-2019 03:40 PM BST
Funding to support early interventions to tackle youth offending by supporting activities and organisations working with children at risk of being drawn into crime and violence Continue reading
05-06-2019 03:05 PM BST
To identify high-potential digital technology interventions that can improve parental engagement in maths and maths outcomes for young people Continue reading
05-06-2019 02:57 PM BST
Grants up to £100,000 for the development of digital solutions that can be implemented in schools and colleges to improve student outcomes and decrease teacher workload Continue reading
05-06-2019 02:31 PM BST
To strengthen the financial position of credit unions and help them to develop new strategies for growth Continue reading
05-06-2019 02:13 PM BST
Awards to recognise and celebrate local high streets Continue reading
05-06-2019 01:49 PM BST
Grants for planting trees in urban areas Continue reading
05-06-2019 12:22 PM BST
Small grants for projects in Devon that bring people together, enrich and strengthen communities and improve wellbeing Continue reading
05-06-2019 11:13 AM BST
A Devon County Council grant to connect people in a positive, fulfilling and inclusive way: tackling and reducing loneliness and undesired isolation of all types and across all age groups Continue reading
29-05-2019 11:21 AM BST
A new four-year programme for collaborative projects to regenerate England’s struggling historic high streets and town centres through lasting improvements to restore and enhance local historic character Continue reading
22-05-2019 01:38 PM BST
Grants for food waste prevention are the first phase of a new fund to improve resource efficiency. Further phases will cover plastic packaging, textiles, food processing, recycling infrastructure and litter bins. Continue reading