‘Local policing’ review highlights funding crisis driving loss of PCSOs – neighbourhood services may rely on Specials and volunteers

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Last week I took part in, as a member of a Devon County Council scrutiny committee,  a ‘spotlight review’ on ‘local policing’ attended by senior officers including the Chief Constable. Local policing, it was explained, is different from neighbourhood policing as it is delivered by officers behind computers in headquarters and other specialists, some of whom will not be uniformed, as well as on the beat in a neighbourhood. The planned drastic reductions in the numbers of Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) are part of this transition, and the police made it clear that while they are not happy with this, they see it as the inevitable consequence of reduced funding. If there is any hope of keeping up the level of neighbourhood policing it may lie, it was suggested, in recruiting an increased number of Specials with a neighbourhood brief, and other volunteers.

I am a member of the scrutiny committee’s panel which will produce recommendations from this review. Without prejudging our discussion, it is safe to say that there was general agreement that there is a huge gap between how the police see their role and how local communities see it. I will let you know if we find ways of bridging it!

Vote for solar panels for Colyton Library

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Please vote for Colyton Library in the Marks and Spencer Community Energy Fund by clicking   HERE

We need your vote. Colyton Library has the opportunity to win £4,500 funding for solar panels. As you may know the library building now belongs to Colyton Parish Council. The running costs and maintenance costs will be split between The Friends of Colyton Library and Libraries Unlimited. Solar panels will provide free electricity and a small income.

PLEASE VOTE !!!!!!!!!!

If you have any problems go to http://www.mandsenergyfund.com and select the region Devon and Dorset

Meeting plans to secure remedial measures for Wilmington, to tame the A35’s damaging effects on the village

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Third-crash-1Last Thursday I arrived late for a meeting with the A35 Action Group in Wilmington. There had been yet another crash on the eastern side of the village (after a spate of crashes on the road in the summer: image from Devon Live).

There are problems all along this road but Wilmington’s situation is particularly bad. There is not a single pedestrian crossing and many parts of the village don’t even have pavements, although huge volumes of traffic, including large numbers of heavy goods vehicles, pass through – often at excessive speed – at all times. The situation is a scandal and I will join Neil Parish MP and representatives of Widworthy Parish Council and the Action Group to meet Highways England later this month to request urgent implementation of a series of remedial measures.

Shock proposal to close Axe Valley Sixth Form is the result of the ‘reduction in government funding for sixth form provision in schools’

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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.

When will the Heart of the South West Local Economic Partnership (LEP) offer something to small town, rural and coastal Devon?

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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.

Urban (especially Exeter) congestion and air pollution – new task group established

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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.

Rural broadband and mobile phone coverage – progress needs to be seen

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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.