Month: January 2020
It’s always good to see the money allocated. £104,000 is in the DCC budget for 2020-21 to complete the missing section on the Stop Line Way in Seaton Wetlands. Negotiations on the route with the landowners are ongoing and I hope to hear about progress soon.
Meanwhile the County Council scrutiny committee on which I sit voted to ask the Cabinet to ask the Government for more money for climate challenges, including public transport and cycling facilities. Some Tory councillors, including Ian Hall, wanted to delay this until the County had prepared its carbon plan, but Lib Dem county councillor Jackie Hook told him, ‘You can’t park something which is an emergency’, and the committee voted by 7 votes (including two Tories) to 5 to send the request to Cabinet.
Devon’s ‘best budget for 10 years’ boosts social care and corporate services, but no improvement in community services; no wonder people feel they are seeing little for their ever-increasing council tax
Devon County Council’s Chief Executive, Phil Norrey (pictured), told a scrutiny committee yesterday that the 2020-21 budget looked like being the best the Council had been able to set in 10 years.
There will be big rises for adult and children’s social care, on which the vast majority of funding goes – 70 per cent of all DCC expenditure on 3 per cent of the population, approximately 10,000 vulnerable adults and 5,000 vulnerable children.
There will also be a big increase – 7 per cent – in spending on corporate services, which have been pared back in recent years, but stagnant community services such as libraries will see only minimal rises to pay for wage increases. Meanwhile Devon is having to maintain higher-than-necessary reserves because the Brexit-obsessed Government refuses to tell them more than a year in advance what funding will be available.
No wonder that the latest community survey for the Council shows widespread complaints by residents that they see nothing for their council tax.
The Tory Government’s austerity policies – which have not ended – are to primarily to blame. Johnson is happy that he can claim not to be imposing any tax rises, while forcing councils like Devon to make over-inflation increases year after year.
DCC Conservatives also seem content to accept the cards the Government hands them, complacently assuming that the low services/high council tax set-up can go on for yet another year without pushback. No doubt the Government will allow them to keep tax down at last next year, with the County elections on the way.
Conservatives block my proposal for additional funding for Devon libraries, despite budgeting for further 8 per cent decline in book issues next year
Conservative members of the Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services scrutiny committee voted yesterday to block my proposal for additional funding dedicated to book purchases in Devon libraries, after the budget papers estimated a further 8 per cent decline in book issues in 2020-21, from 2.4 million to 2.2 million. Cabinet member Cllr Roger Croad admitted that the book stock had declined, but Tory councillors agreed to postpone discussion of the issue until September when a strategic review of library contract will come to the committee.
Chair Cllr Alistair Dewhirst suggested to Cllr Croad that if he was still in office in ten years time, the libraries would be issuing no books at all. But the Tories seem to think, as Cllr Ian Hall said, that libraries are more important as ‘community spaces’ than as places where people can find books.
Chief Fire Officer says reprieved fire stations now have viable future, guarantees they won’t be closed/merged without further consultation
The Chief Fire Officer, Lee Howell (above), and his deputy appeared at a Devon County Council Scrutiny committee yesterday and presented an optimistic picture of the future of the six reprieved stations, including Colyton. However he defended the closure of Budleigh Salterton and Topsham.
Since Colyton and the other reprieved stations’ crews had agreed to the new ‘Payment for Availability’ scheme, they said, they were ‘confident there would be no need to come back’ with new proposals for closure. Possible ‘mergers’ of stations mentioned in the Fire Authority papers are not currently being pursued. Moreover guarantees were given that there would be further consultation in the (apparently unlikely) event of closures or mergers being proposed.
They also defended the new ‘aggregate crewing’ system, saying that engines with crews of 2 or 3 (rather than the normal minimum of 4) would be mainly sent to small incidents which didn’t require full crews.
Devon, especially the RD&E, is the worst area in the country for waiting more than a year for operations
According to a paper for this week’s Health Scrutiny meeting:
‘At the end of November, nationally there were 1,378 patients’ waiting over 52-weeks with Devon CCG having 282 of these breaches.’
If Devon had the number of waits in proportion to its population, the number would have been less than 20.
The paper says that OVER HALF of the 282 were waiting for the RD&E. ‘Royal Devon & Exeter Trust (RDE) has been impacted by staffing issues particularly in Cardiology and has issues with long waits in Upper Gastrointestinal Surgery and Orthopaedic Surgery.’
I have raised this question at both Health Scrutiny and Devon County Council over the last two years, and I’m pleased that the NHS organisations are finally giving it the priority it deserves. I look forward to seeing action to address this problem in 2020, as promised.
Actively giving patients the option to go elsewhere after 26 weeks is also an improvement. But the NHS should be able to treat everyone in less than 26 weeks, too. It is an awful long time to wait in pain and discomfort.
A very disappointing outcome. Since this is not the end of the story, I shall refrain from further comment, but post this link to Daniel Clark’s report on Devon Live.
(Picture: Cllr Jack Rowland at Seaton Hospital demonstration, 2017)
A great success for Colyton and the other communities – the Fire Service backtracks on almost all the fire station closures
The report for next Friday’s Fire Authority meeting is here (main recommendations on page 1). The paragraph referring to Colyton is as follows:
9.6. Other Stations: Appledore, Ashburton, Colyton, Kingston, Porlock and Woolacombe would remain open under this proposal but will be subject to periodic review. The payment for availability for ‘On-call’ staff that has been agreed in principle with trade unions will improve availability of ‘On-call’ fire appliances. It is also agreed (with one trade union and discussions ongoing with another) that ‘aggregate crewing’, where firefighters can be sent to incidents with fewer than four firefighters, be adopted. The decision to defer the closures of these fire stations will be dependent on stations improving their availability, for example by adopting the aggregate crewing model.
The Opinion Research Services analysis of the consultation shows strong support for Colyton (and quotes my own submission at length). Its conclusions are here:
5.52 For the reasons explained, the consultation outcomes show a stark 95-to-5 ratio of opponents to supporters, not only in relation to the closure of eight fires stations but for all six options. While consultations are not referenda, these findings are very striking and unusually critical.
5.53 One difficulty is that there was little in the consultation to provide a more balanced picture of general public opinion: with the benefit of hindsight, deliberative consultation and scrutiny through representative forums or focus groups and/or a representative residents’ survey could have provided valuable information about public perceptions of the proposals when fully explained.
5.54 The Fire Authority and DSFRS are faced with difficult decisions following this consultation’s outcomes. There are reasons to implement the proposals; yet the Authority should assess its reputation risk and the of possibility of legal challenges, given the outcomes. Overall, the Fire Authority should consider how the methodological issues we have highlighted have magnified opposition to the proposals while also considering how its proposals could be amended to make them more acceptable.
5.55 There is no single ‘right’ approach, but on balance ORS recommends that it would be wise to prioritise the proposed changes and then to subject them to scrutiny in sequence through more local and focused deliberative and/or representative consultations in the affected areas.
5.56 Therefore, for the reasons given above, we recommend that DSFRS and the Fire Authority should:
Consider the consultation outcomes in depth while noting how some features of the consultation exercise have magnified opposition;
Rethink, prioritise, and re-present its key proposals in a more graduated way;
For each proposal, target further consultation more locally in the affected areas using several shorter and more location-specific consultation documents;
Continue not to use public meetings as key parts of the consultation, but to be prepared to attend ones organised by other bodies, albeit only in a ‘listening mode’;
Continue to use an open questionnaire, but also seek ways of eliciting general public opinion – to compare one with the other;
Recognise the advantages of using representative and independently facilitated deliberative forums, workshops and focus groups as the best way of giving controversial proposals a ‘fair hearing’ and comparing people’s ‘before-and-after’ opinions; and
Consider whether it would be appropriate to conduct a representative survey based on proper sampling.