Foster carers and Exmouth breastfeeding group protest cuts at Devon County Council

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foster carersAbout twenty Devon County Council foster carers came to support four of their number who addressed the council (left) over changes to their contracts which they say will stop them from being able to continue in their work. (At the budget meeting, Independents had proposed extra funding for foster care rather than increasing reserves.)

breastfeeding petition

Just before this, a representative of Busom Buddies Breastfeeding Support Group in Exmouth presented a petition with 600 signatures to Leader John Hart (right), calling on the Council to restore funding for their full-time worker who is essential for the valuable work the group does in helping mothers who have difficulty with breastfeeding.

Conservative complacency on rural broadband roll-out on display at Devon County Council

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Devon County Council managed not to spend £2 million it was supposed to contribute to Connecting Devon and Somerset’s roll-out of broadband and mobile phone coverage in rural areas, because CDS didn’t need the money. When I pointed out that many people were having to wait far too long, and asked if the money couldn’t be used to speed things up, Conservative Cabinet Member Cllr Stuart Barker said that that was up to CDS, not Devon County Council to decide.

Devon County Council underspends on social care because it can’t get enough staff – Cabinet member claims it’s ‘good management’!

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At today’s Devon County Council Cabinet meeting, significant underspends on several areas of social care were reported due to staff shortages and staff vacancies. While I together with Labour and LibDem councillors suggested – as officers had told us previously – that this raised serious concerns about whether the Council was able to deliver the services needed, and whether it was getting staff and pay levels right, Conservative Cabinet member, Councillor Andrew Leadbetter said it was testimony to ‘good management’.

Our NHS is at risk from Theresa May’s chaotic, economically damaging, intolerant Brexit – why I’m marching with Devon for Europe in Exeter on 24th March

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680x340-sw_march_rally_final_1000-editMost Seaton & Colyton voters supported Brexit in 2016. Across East Devon, 56 per cent backed Leave, 44 per cent Remain. But people didn’t vote to make the country poorer, or to damage the NHS.

Yet that’s where we’re heading, and as County Councillor I have to speak out, even if many voters and some of my own supporters may disagree. I am not going to follow the example of Neil Parish MP, who knows that Brexit is bad for Devon and Britain but refuses to come out publicly.

There is now no doubt that – especially since Theresa May has chosen to the Single Market and Customs Union as well as the EU itself – Brexit will seriously damage the UK’s economy. Devon, with its reliance on sectors like farming, tourism and universities, and with more of its cities’ exports going to Europe than anywhere else in the UK, will be badly hit.

I was elected because people were concerned about our local NHS – I can tell you that, far from there being more money for the NHS when we leave, there will be much less, as the  slowing of the economy is already cutting tax receipts which means less money all round.  The NHS locally and nationally is suffering from chronic staff shortages – yet the intolerant image presented by Brexit to the outside world has already cut off the flow of European nurses which helps keep it going. The fall in the value of the pound is even seeing care workers from non-EU countries heading home. Withdrawing from the European Medicines Agency threatens our access to the newest medicines.

Therefore I will be proud to march with the thousands of people from all over the South West, young and old, in Exeter on 24th March, to give a wake-up call to people before this looming disaster for our country becomes irreversible. Set off at noon, Belmont Park, Exeter, EX1 2HG and march to Bedford Street, Princesshay, Exeter, EX1 1LR for the rally. Event finishes at approximately 3pm.

Seaton Beach Management Action Plan published – important proposals which need to be taken forward

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The consultants’ report to go to EDDC is now available here. It’s extremely long, informative and thorough, and my first reaction is that we need to press EDDC to adopt the recommendations and – where necessary – look hard for funding so that more of this agenda can be carried out, to top up the relatively modest statutory funding. There are some ‘wish list’ items which are not included – like the extension of the West Walk to Seaton Hole, which was costed at £4m – but all the items in the list below are things which really must be addressed.

Upgrade concrete encased revetment at Seaton Hole.

Maintain ‘old and new’ revetment at Seaton Hole / Old Beer Road

Extend ‘new’ revetment at ‘The Pillar’.

Upgrade Check House wall.

Maintain West Walk Promenade including concrete / stone blockwork.

Do Nothing: Seaton spit, and consult with SMP (Shoreline Management Plan) group to guide future management of the landward side of the spit 

New defences west bank Axe Estuary.

Consider whether to undertake beach recycling, guided by ongoing monitoring, consultation with SMP group and new study

Cliff drainage measures. EDDC to investigate suitable options for cliff‐top drainage (that are agreeable environmentally and affordable), and for EDDC to identify a funding stream for this erosion risk management activity. A study into surface water flows on the cliff‐top would also be required in support.

Works to address undermining of Seaton Hole outfall.

Assessment of pathway along concrete encased revetment at Seaton Hole.

Address issue of pollution of beach at Old Beer Road. To be informed by an investigation and if relevant, development of suitable options.

More monitoring, extended to Beer

Pay more and more council tax for fewer and fewer services – Devon Conservatives’ inspiring record of managing the County Council’s decline reaches a new low

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My last post but not least on yesterdays County Council meeting – it approved the budget and set an increase in Council Tax of 4.99 per cent. 

As my Independent colleague Cllr Claire Wright explained in her speech, health visitors, funding for foster care, the schools counselling service, among others are to be cut, cut, cut – while an extra £5m is stashed away in reserves (because of the unreliability of the Government’s new wheeze of letting councils keep business rates as a partial substitute for central funding).

County budget meeting 15.2.18I pointed out that – while we all want to protect spending on the young, elderly and disabled – another year of huge rises in Council Tax (making 14 per cent in the last 3 years) will hit hard those managing on modest incomes.

As a colleague pointed out, Council Tax is an unfair tax and the way in which the Government is loading social care costs on to it is a disgrace.

I said you’d have thought that it would be good for Devon to have the same party running its council which runs the national government. Actually it’s the opposite – the Tory Government takes advantage of the Devon Tories’ slavish loyalty, and the Devon Tories let them get away with it.


Devon’s Conservative leader blocks pro-Europe rally being held in County Hall grounds – Tory councillor says protest is not the way to do things

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Whether or not you agree with Devon for Europe (D4E) it is worrying that Devon County Council leader, Cllr John Hart, refused a request for the campaign group to hold a rally in the County Hall grounds because he didn’t think it was appropriate for a political rally to be held there.

County officers had told the D4E there were all sorts of practical reasons why the rally would cause difficulties for the Council. D4E had approached me to help and I was surprised that the Council hadn’t discussed the reasons with them – I thought the issues should be possible to negotiate.

However at yesterday’s Council, after I put the decision on the agenda, Cllr Hart gave the game away, and fellow-Conservative Cllr Christine Channon backed him up by saying protest wasn’t the way do things. Cllr Channon – who voted Remain but thinks now that we should let the Government get on with its negotiations without making our views known to them – may not want to protest, but many do and it is their right to do so. WATCH THE DEBATE – FORWARD TO 2:45 FOR THIS EXCHANGE.

Councils control most of the public space where a fairly large number of people could assemble. So they should go out of their way to facilitate peaceful protest even at the cost of a bit of inconvenience. It is essential for democracy that peaceful protest and assembly – including by people we disagree with – should be able to take place!