Month: February 2021

Why is Devon’s Labour party supporting the Tories’ standstill, austerity budget?

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At Devon County Council on Thursday, Labour leader Cllr Rob Hannaford (left) commended the Conservatives’ budget as ‘full of Labour values’, and all the Labour councillors then voted for it, except one who abstained. Lib Dem, Independent and Green councillors voted against.

The budget did, it is true, provide increased funding for adult and children’s social care – but overwhelmingly to meet increased demand and rising costs, not to improve services – and then funded by a massive Council Tax rise which is unfair to many residents.

In other service areas, like Highways and Libraries, the budget meant standstill funding, reflecting the austerity which – despite Boris Johnson’s claims to have ended it – still applies to local government. If this reflects Labour values, I’ll eat my hat.

I’m old enough to remember when Conservatives stood for lower taxes – but in Devon they’re raised Council Tax above inflation for the 6th year in a row, partly to put money in reserves

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At the County Council on Thursday, the Tory majority led by Cllr John Hart (right) voted for a 4.99 per cent increase in Council Tax, 3 per cent of which is to fund social care after the Government pushed the extra costs of the service onto councils, rather than provide funding from national taxation.

This is the 6th above-inflation rise in a row and brings the 6-year increase to around 30 per cent. General inflation is 0.7 per cent and public sector wages are limited to 1 per cent rises.

The Tories voted down Liberal Democrat and Independent proposals to take money from reserves to improve other services and our (the Independents’) to cancel the general rise in Council Tax (1.99 per cent) this year, in view of the 3 per cent rise for social care. Reserves are needed to deal with uncertainty about future funding, partly because the Government won’t give councils proper medium-term spending allocations. So the Government is leaving councils’ finances at risk and then getting Council Tax payers to pay more to top up councils’ bank balances to cover the risks they are helping to create!

At Devon County Council, the Conservative majority blocked discussion of my call to make the 6th May elections safe and fair

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See this report from Devon Live.

And note my new logo – NOW is the time to REGISTER TO VOTE (you can do this online).

If you’re on the register, you can APPLY FOR A POSTAL VOTE – you can’t apply online, which was what I was complaining about, but only print off an application form. If you haven’t got a printer, ring EDDC on  01395 517402 for an application form.

Hancock’s NHS ‘reforms’ don’t abolish privatisation, only competitive tendering – making crony contracting easier

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A commentary in the British Medical Journal makes it clear that far from undoing the 2012 Lansley changes, Hancock proposes to keep most of the worst features.

The split between providers and purchasers will remain, but without competitive tendering – meaning that there is nothing to stop the crony contracting which we’ve seen from the Government during the pandemic becoming a routine feature of the NHS.

Devon CC Independents call for a Council Tax Holiday, plus investment in rural cycle routes and libraries, by taking money from reserves

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The independents on Devon County Council have tabled an amendment for Thursday’s budget meeting asking that the proposed 1.99% increase in council tax is scrapped.

DCC would have  increased its share of the council tax by  £394.92 (24%) over the last five years if it goes through with the proposals.

We are also asking for the reintroduction of Community Lengths-people, to clear and maintain drains and gullies.  We see this as a spend to save initiative as the cost of reactive works to flooding and the damage caused to road services far outweigh the cost of simple preventative work.

We want to see the end of commissioning services to private companies for adult and child social care and them bought back in house to create better value and most importantly better care.

We also want to see investment in books for our library service after years of decline.

Clearly the main problem for funding vital services through council tax is the unfair levels of government support Devon gets against urban areas, it is also more costly to deliver services in a rural area such as ours.

A quick look through the average council tax for last year, shows the residents of Westminster with a median salary of £46k paying £782 per Band D property.

At Devon it was £1,995 with a median salary for North Devon of £25.4K 

A massive difference of £1,213!

Even if you look at nearby Plymouth it was £1,818 with a median salary of £29.2k, that is £177 per year less than Devon.

Leader of the Independent Group Frank Biederman says, ‘these inequalities have to stop, all we hear is about the levelling up of the North of England, it’s time that Devon MP’s and our own council started shouting about this, simply towing the party line is having a devastating impact on our residents.

We hope Council support our budget proposals as we believe with the hard times we are experiencing at the moment and with the impact on people’s incomes, using some of our significant reserves in support of our community is a right and proper thing to do.  We have accumulated huge amounts of reserves over the years and surely they are there for hard times such as now.

We know the Police Crime Commissioner is increasing her precept by £14.92 this year and with the Fire  Authority, Districts and Parishes likely to increase theirs, we as the highest of the precept authorities can help mitigate it, every little helps, when you are really struggling.’

Our full Budget Proposal is: 

Budget Amendment by the Independent Group,  Moved by  Councillor Biederman and Seconded by Councillor Wright 

We welcome and support the increase in Budgets for the Financial Year 2021/22 in all service areas, after the increased funding from Central Government this year.

We ask that Council supports us in giving residents a Council Tax Holiday this year, by not implementing the 1.99% rise proposed.

We invest £1m in Rural Cycle routes, signalling a real intent to meet our Carbon Reduction Plan.

We ask that £1m is also invested in a Lengths-person service, so that every community has someone checking and clearing more regularly drains & gullies.  We see this as a spend to save initiative, but for this year, will be paid for from reserves so as not to impact on other front-line services.

We Invest £200,000 in new books for the Library Service.

Our medium-term strategy had budgeted for a public sector pay rise, which has been frozen, and our reserve levels appear sufficient at £116m.  We would pay for the above by taking £10.54m from reserves this year but look to secure savings in subsequent years on Agency Workers in Commissioning services.

We write to all Devon MP’s & Treasury Department of Government, outlining the dire level of funding in all Public Sector Areas that Devon receives against the National Average, calling on them to level us up and ask that our MP’s representing Devon, vote against any measure that does not see Devon being treated fairly & equitably. 

Devon Tories use postal vote applications to capture voters’ data

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While the Government refuses to hold the postal-vote-based election which would be safe in current pandemic conditions, Devon Conservatives have nevertheless been mailing out postal vote application forms to unsuspecting voters.

What’s more, they’ve inserted a big black tick-box at the bottom of the official-looking form, so that they can harvest would-be postal voters’ information for sending out further propaganda. The form comes with a SAE to send to the local Tories and a copy of their ‘plan’ for Devon.

I gather one of the recipients is making a complaint to the Information Commissioner.

If you want to get a postal vote, act now to download a form here or phone East Devon Electoral Services on 01395 517402. You must of course be on the electoral register before you can apply for a postal vote! If you’re not on at your current address, you can apply online here.

My Midweek Herald column explains why how national politics keeps getting into local issues

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This is being posted a little late, but some may have missed it – my column in the Midweek Herald last week answered some correspondents who said there was too much national politics …

… and urged everyone to act now to (1) register to vote (2) apply for a postal vote.

Seaton’s Beach Management Plan is now fully funded

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I’m very pleased to say that the Seaton Beach Management Plan, which provides for reinforced sea defences between Seaton Hole and the town, now has full funding. I’ve been part of the Stakeholder Group from the start, and it’s great news that our new administration at EDDC, led by Paul Arnott of the East Devon Alliance, has managed to obtain the funds needed to go ahead with the plan. We’re now waiting for a timetable for the works.

My only regret is that the plan, agreed in principle some time ago, is not sufficiently ambitious because it does not include the measures – identified by the consultants – which could have helped slow down erosion from above due to rainwater. The main problem is that the formula for Government funding is too restrictive to allow for a more advanced scheme.

New article on the history of Seaton Hole, from the Seaton Museum newsletter

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I’ve just published an article, Seaton Hole’s 150th Anniversary, in the February newsletter of the Axe Valley Heritage Association, which runs Seaton Museum. You can download it here:

Over-70s in Devon should be vaccinated this week – if you don’t hear from your GP, you can now book online

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The NHS says that everyone in Devon over 70, and all those with serious conditions, should be vaccinated by the end of this week. If you haven’t heard from your surgery, you can now apply online for your vaccination.

I’m off to be vaccinated in half an hour!