Independent County Councillor Claire Wright explains how the Government is forcing Devon people to pay 5% more while services are slashed. This follows a 4% rise last year -and 5% a year is likely to be the pattern until 2020. This is as unfair as the Poll Tax: we should not be putting up with this. Claire’s questions to Hugo Swire are for Neil Parish, too.
Devon’s council tax will rise by 4.99 per cent from April, following yesterday’s budget meeting. More services and backroom functions are being cut, including road maintenance, community composting payments, as well as funding for vulnerable children and adults services.
Government ministers, who have forced councils, and as a consequence, citizens (mainly vulnerable ones and those on low incomes) across the country into austerity have this year allowed councils to increase tax to higher levels, to offset in a very small way the massive cuts they have made to council budgets.
This year the government has slashed £23m from Devon County Council’s budgets – a 15 per cent cut in the seventh year of austerity.
According to the scrutiny budget papers of 30 January, fewer people will be eligible for social care, due to budgetary pressures. Page 88 states: “This (budget) requires an overall reduction in the number of clients to achieve budget levels.”
It goes on to state on page 89: “The scale of change is likely to severely test the capacity of managers at different levels, especially where pressures of essential work cannot be reprioritised without risk to those who receive services.”
Over half of Devon County Council’s budget has now been cut since 2010. More than £267 million over the last seven years.
The council tax rise will cost the average Band D council taxpayer £1.16 a week extra. Devon County Council leader, John Hart said in a press release: “I believe we are justified in asking for that to help protect and support some of the most vulnerable people in society.”
Of course, he really has no choice with the crisis in social care that is present. This year’s budget was around £5m overspent due to increasing costs of care and massive government budget cuts.
While £1.16 a week extra might be shrugged off by people who are comfortably off. Others on a tight budget, those who are struggling to pay debts and bills, will regard it as yet another burden..
The government says it can’t afford to look after its sick, its vulnerable and its elderly, so it encourages councils to increase council tax instead. Pushing a huge burden onto residents. Charging the taxpayer significant sums of money for poorer and fewer services.
And of course, this isn’t the only council tax rise that people will have to swallow. The likelhood is that district councils will hike their tax, Devon and Cornwall Police has already announced it is increasing its council tax and the fire authority will also surely, like it did last year to increase its council tax.
That’s a massive year on year increase in council tax, for fewer and poorer services. Each year as the cost to taxpayers rise, the services get sparser and poorer.
According to a report out this week almost a third of the population of Britain is living on an ‘inadequate’ income. More people than ever are using foodbanks and homelessness has rocketed.
How do ministers sleep at night knowing that it is their policies, their ideology, their own selfish version of how they believe a society should operate, that are causing this awful hardship… in the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world.
Hugo Swire MP has expressed concern about social care funding and the closure of hospital beds.
But if Hugo Swire was REALLY concerned and REALLY serious about these issues, he would vote AGAINST the council budget cuts in the House of Commons next Wednesday afternoon (23 February).
But so far he, along with his conservative colleagues have quietly voted in favour, hoping no one will notice.
Once again this year, I will notice. And I will sure everyone notices how he and his colleagues vote.
Because this vote surely goes to the absolute heart of whether Mr Swire really cares about his constituents or is little more than a party yes man.
Here’s the webcast of yesterday’s budget meeting – https://devoncc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/244712
View From reported in December that Carnall Farrer, a consultancy firm run by Dame Ruth Carnall, who is head of our CCG’s ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plan‘ – which is behind the proposed cuts to hospital beds – was being paid £40,000 a month by the CCG, i.e. nearly half a million a year. Now East Devon Watch reports that the same firm is taking even more in Camden.
It is completely unacceptable that top NHS officials like Carnall set up private businesses which cream off scarce cash from the service.
As the NHS and social care crises deepen, two key consultation meetings are both taking place in Ottery St Mary next month, the only venue for each in the whole of East Devon.
- The NHS is holding meetings across Devon to get people’s views on services at major hospitals such as the RD&E. It is all part of the SUSTAINABILITY AND TRANSFORMATION PLAN, which will involve major cuts and centralisation of NHS services across Devon. This meeting is on Monday 13th March 6pm-8pm – The Kings School
- Devon County Council is holding meetings about PROMOTING INDEPENDENCE, which is its name for getting ‘families, friends and informal social networks’ to support people who need social care that DCC can’t afford to provide (to attend this, email email@example.com by Tuesday 28th February). Wednesday 15 March, Tumbling Weir Hotel, Ottery St Mary. Facilitated event: 3pm-4.30pm, Drop-in discussion opportunity: 5-6pm, Facilitated event: 6.30-8.30pm.
Is it just coincidence that both these events are in Ottery? Or is it because Ottery has an Independent County Councillor, Claire Wright, who has been pushing hard on these twin crises, and bringing them to the attention of the public, while other councillors haven’t bothered?
The Boundary Commission for England has made proposals which would take part of Seaton ‘around Beer Road’ – which the map shows means the area to the west of Castle Hill/Marlpit Lane and to the south of Bunts Lane – out of the Seaton district council ward and puts it into Beer and Branscombe ward.
Because the area would then be in a different district ward from the rest of Seaton, it would be also be a separate ward for town council election purposes, with one councillor (the rest of Seaton would be another ward, with 11).
The Commission justifies this on grounds of ‘electoral equality‘, i.e. ensuring that each ward has roughly the same number of voters per councillor. However while this change would leave Seaton ward with just 1% over the recommended number of voters, it would leave the expanded Beer and Branscombe ward 5% over.
It seems that Beer and Branscombe parish councils are behind the drive to expand their ward. Alternatives to ‘include either Salcombe Regis from Sidmouth parish or the parish of Southleigh’ were rejected because they ‘would not meet our statutory criteria of community identity.’ Bizarrely, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to the Commission that West Seaton citizens might have feelings about having their Seaton identity taken away!
This is now out for consultation until 3rd April and will be considered by Seaton Town Council. By coincidence, the AGM of the West Seaton & Seaton Hole Association takes place on Thursday 16th February (at the Marshlands Centre, Harbour Road, starting at 7 pm). We will add this to the agenda.
Here is what the Commission says in full:
‘Beer & Branscombe, Coly Valley and Seaton 35 We received a number of different suggestions for this area. One of the two district-wide warding patterns we received proposed that the parish of Southleigh be added to the existing Beer & Branscombe ward to improve electoral equality. The other district submission suggested that a part of Seaton parish be included in Beer & Branscombe ward but did not specify a proposed boundary.
36 We received submissions from both Beer Parish Council and Branscombe Parish Council that accepted that the current ward of Beer & Branscombe needed to be extended to provide for better electoral equality. It was suggested that either an area around Seaton Hole or Salcombe Regis be added to the current ward. We visited the area and considered all proposals. We concluded that to include either Salcombe Regis from Sidmouth parish or the parish of Southleigh would not meet our statutory criteria of community identity. A ward coterminous with Seaton parish would not provide for acceptable electoral equality. Therefore, we have included an area of Seaton parish around Beer Road in our Beer & Branscombe ward. This provides for good electoral equality for both our proposed Beer & Branscombe and Seaton wards. Coly Valley ward remains unchanged, which was supported by a submission from one of the parish councils in this ward.’
I was born in 1950 so have been fortunate in my lifetime that the NHS has existed throughout that time. During my formative years I remember listening to the family discussions that took place concerning health provision that was available before the NHS was created. By and large my parents and grandparents feared having to seek health related help – they were all working class living in, what was then, a poor area of London.
My formative years, hearing stories at first hand, forged the views I still have today regarding the type of society I want to live in and the one I want to see for my children. They are both in their 30’s with good University degrees, good careers and living in London and Bournemouth, but cannot afford to buy a property yet and do not have the salary linked pension provision that I enjoyed during my career.
Where I live now in Seaton we are experiencing the same problem with the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) that other areas of the U.K. are experiencing, namely giving options across a number of local hospitals with the aim of reducing bed spaces. The CCG has gone through the sham of holding public consultation events to be able to put a tick in a box when no doubt the decision had already been made when looking at options to save money.
To say that alternative services will be put in place to avoid people having to occupy bed spaces is just a future promise at the moment and, in my opinion, will not adequately tackle the problems that people will face in the future with people living longer, but, as we know now, having more multiple difficult health issues allied with possibly living at home alone or with another aged husband / wife or partner.
So who is the real culprit?
I lay the blame squarely at the door of Central Government and the current Conservative stance. The U.K. is the 5th or 6th richest country (depending on which statistic you believe). The Government decide how the expense cake will be divided and the priorities whilst servicing Government debt and hopefully growing the size of the cake. I want to see the NHS and Social Services receive a larger slice of the cake as we can afford to do that if the will is there to match the current and future needs.
I want to see everyone benefit fairly from a growing economy and in a society where health and social care is not subject to a post code lottery and a fair national tax system for individuals and businesses that encourages individuals and businesses to grow and develop without resorting to tax avoidance schemes or exploiting loopholes.
I know that the cost of the NHS and Social Services will grow due to an ageing population and I’m not advocating throwing more money at them without strong controls over how the money is spent, but I do want to see the same improved provision in the future regardless of where you live or your financial situation. As a country we can afford to do this without decisions being devolved to a local level that has resulted in the current situation and Central Government pointing the finger and blaming health professionals.
Although I am a Councillor on Seaton Town Council the views I have expressed above are my personal views. JR
Independent County Councillor Claire Wright, bottom right, says (see full post here):
‘Fewer people are set to be eligible to receive social care in Devon in the coming year, following the latest required budget cuts, due to government austerity measures.
At the same time Devon County’s council tax is set to rise by three per cent from April, to try and cope with the latest massive loss in income.
At yesterday’s joint budget scrutiny meeting councillors agreed to urge all Devon MPs to speak AND vote against the council cuts debate in the House of Commons, which is expected to take place early in February.
Between April 2017 and March 2018 a huge £23m must be struck from budgets – a 15 per cent cut.
We are now in the eighth year of austerity and Devon County Council’s annual government grant has plummeted by well over half – from £283m in 2010 to £128m.
We continue to see our roads break and fracture. The government gives councils a fraction of the money that has been cut and the blames councils when it can’t repair all the roads. Some roads are simply deteriorating and will not be properly repaired.
Almost all Devon County Council run care homes have shut, Devon County Council run youth centres have closed and many bus routes were lost or cut back.
… Children’s homes closed and funding has been cut for vulnerable children and adults.
Last month, the council removed some of the schools’ budget for special needs funding to make its books balance. This has plunged more Devon schools into an even worse financially austere position.’