Month: September 2019

Johnson’s NHS promises are phoney and offer absolutely nothing for Devon.

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DCC Scrutiny Committee writes to Fire Service to express ‘disappointment’ after they declined to appear before it. My motion urging the Fire Authority to pause on the proposals goes before full Council on Thursday.

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Fire Service consultationAt its meeting last Thursday, the Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Scrutiny Committee, which had invited the Fire Service to present its ‘Safer Together’ proposals to the meeting, decided to express its ‘disappointment’ that the Service had declined to attend. As I pointed out in my paper to the Committee (agenda item 12, pp 43-46), the Service seemed to be avoiding detailed scrutiny of its proposals by elected councillors. I had put the item back on the agenda after the Chair had taken it off in the light of the Service’s decision.

The issue now goes to Council this Thursday, where I have proposed this motion:

‘This County Council expresses its concern at the failure of the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service to formally consult the Council, especially in the light of our role as partner under civil contingency legislation. This Council believes that the Service has not presented sufficiently detailed and costed proposals for additional prevention and protection work to outweigh the undoubted extra risk to many Devon residents from the closure of fire stations and removals of engines involved in the consultation proposals. In this light Council urges the members of the Fire Authority not to proceed with any of the options but to ask for further work by the Service on the future pattern of provision.”

The consultation closed on 22nd September and a report on its outcomes will go the Fire Authority on 8th November.

While Johnson peddles broadband pie-in-the-sky, Devon Conservatives’ delivery plans have exploded – and his Chancellor failed to confirm that £18m funding is still available to pick up the pieces!

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Viewed from Devon, the most laughable of all Boris Johnson’s election wheezes is his promise to get ‘full-fibre ultrafast broadband’ into all homes by 2025.

“Without any detail it is just a pledge,” says Andrew Ferguson, editor-in-chief of broadband comparison site ThinkBroadband. “The key to getting excited is dependent on what the pledge means in terms of help for commercial roll-outs and extra funding to ensure that areas unlikely to see commercial roll-out for a number of years can be moved forward.”

No one will be getting excited in rural Devon. The County Council Scrutiny committee on which I sit has been following a long saga of failure by Connecting Devon and Somerset, the quango supported by the two Tory-controlled counties to deliver to a large swathe of difficult-to-reach properties.

We found out on Thursday, after questioning from myself and other councillors (watch the webcast), that

  1. Contracts given to Gigaclear, supposed to have been completed in December 2019 but cancelled in July after many months of fruitless re-negotiations with the company (with only 1 out of 5 contracts completed), will not be put out to tender again until 2020.
  2. There will need to be a 12-month tender process to find a new contractor.
  3. The earliest a new contractor will start will be later in 2021.
  4. Although CDS has asked for the £18.7m funding to be renewed until 2023, Johnson’s chancellor, Sajid Javid, didn’t mention it in his recent funding statement which in any case – because it was designed purely to showcase election gimmicks – only covered the next financial year.
  5. So CDS cancelled the Gigaclear contracts without even knowing that they would have the money to replace them.
  6. Even if the funding is restored, officers agreed that the 2023 target is likely to prove unrealistic for a new contractor.

So we are looking (at best) at something like a 5-year overshoot, and even if it is completed, the CDS programme would still leave thousands of homes in Devon and Somerset without ‘full-fibre ultra-fast broadband’ which Johnson promises, as it was never designed to reach every household.

And while Johnson promises pie-in-the-sky, his government’s election-boosting funding statement has just caused a further delay to the botched programme, making the job of picking up the pieces in Devon even harder.

Months ago, the Cabinet member responsible, Rufus Gilbert – who was conveniently absent on Thursday – described Devon’s broadband crisis as a ‘mini-Brexit’. If the Tories can’t get local broadband right, hold your breath as they hurl us towards the national cliff-edge.

Some progress in Scrutiny discussion of Devon Libraries: new @LibrariesUnLtd CEO acknowledges ‘decline’ in book issues; and more data is to be made public.

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A lengthy discussion at DCC’s Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Scrutiny Committee saw some progress in addressing the big issues that face Devon’s library service. Alex Kittow, the new head of Libraries Unlimited (the mutual which runs the service for DCC) did at least acknowledge the decline in book issues and the need to find funding to support the core of the service. Likewise, the cost of excessive cutbacks in opening hours in smaller libraries was recognised, while Simon Kitchen, the officer who leads on libraries for DCC, promised more open library-by-library data would soon be available.

It’s worth listening to the webcast of the session, in which councillors including myself and the Committee Chair, Alistair Dewhurst, probed Alex, Simon and Cllr Roger Croad, the Cabinet member responsible.

As we head towards a General Election, we have a unique opportunity to get a genuine local Independent candidate elected in East Devon: please support her campaign financially now

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Claire Wright

Claire Wright is virtually the only grassroots Independent (as opposed to a former party MP who has gone ‘independent’) who could be elected anywhere in England. She has launched her campaign and is looking for practical support in the East Devon constituency – and financial support from anyone who would like to see her representing local people in Westminster. Go to her website: claire-wright.org and click on the DONATE button on the top left.

Unfortunately we can’t vote for Claire in Seaton and Colyton, but if she is the MP for the neighbouring constituency this will have a real knock-on effect for us.

South West survey on older (55+) women’s lifetime experiences of relationships, sex and harassment

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This survey is being carried out by Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support (SARSAS), The Women’s Centre Cornwall, Devon Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Services and Gloucestershire Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre. They say:
‘We are interested in collecting information on the relationship and sexual experiences of women over 55 and developing support services for women who have experienced sexual trauma.
‘We take your privacy very seriously. Your responses will be anonymous and we will remove any information that means you can be indentified. There will be the opportunity to provide your contact details if you wish to be further involved in the project.’
To complete the survey, go to this page and click OK to start.

Dorset and E Devon National Park Team welcomes Glover Landscapes Review’s recommendation that we are assessed for National Park designation.

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The Dorset & East Devon National Park Team statement: ‘… welcomes the Glover Review’s recognition that the area “contains some of the greatest concentrations of biodiversity in Britain and opportunities for enjoyment. It includes the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site”. The spectacular World Heritage Coast would double the extent of coastline which is currently under-represented in English National Parks. The area has a “gold standard” heritage and offers an unrivalled range of recreational opportunities.

‘We welcome the Review’s conclusion that “the Cotswolds and the Dorset proposals are strong candidates alongside the Chilterns to be considered for National Park status. We suggest Natural England and ministers consider the case for each.”

‘We consider Dorset & East Devon is the outstanding candidate to be England’s next National Park. This is shown by the wide-ranging evidence provided to Natural England since 2013 and then to the Glover Review by the National Park Team and the proposal’s many partners and supporters. The Team looks forward to Natural England’s further assessment and consideration of the case for National Park designation. We encourage Natural England to begin this work as soon as possible.

‘We welcome the Review’s emphasis on the vital contributions which National Parks can make to thriving and sustainable communities and rural economies, and to health and wellbeing for residents and visitors. And we support the Review’s call for Designated Landscapes to play a vital role in Nature Recovery Networks and in the response to climate change. We support their call for national funding for this vital work to be sustained and increased.

‘The proposed Dorset & East Devon National Park should be central to a new and exciting vision for the area’s environment, biodiversity and heritage – which are our greatest economic assets – and for communities, businesses and all who live and work in and visit the area.

‘In the 70th anniversary year of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, we look forward to continuing to work with councils and other stakeholders, and with Natural England and DEFRA, to bring to fruition this long-overdue National Park.’

Read the full review…