County Councillor’s Report, November 2017
1. At Devon County Council on 5 October, I made a final attempt to get the Seaton and Honiton bed closures decision scrutinised properly and sent to the Secretary of State. It was voted down by 40 (all Conservatives) to 16 (Independents, Liberal Democrats, Labour, Green and one Conservative, Ian Hall of Axminster).
2. The proposed steering committee for a Health Hub based on Seaton and Axminster hospitals is due to meet shortly, and the RD&E has agreed to appoint to a Project Officer to develop it, which is a positive sign.
3. I called a meeting of hospital campaigners in Seaton on 24 October, which set up a new Axe Valley Hospitals Campaign, to support bringing new services into Seaton and Axminster and to oppose any proposals to sell off the sites.
1. On 27 October, I joined Neil Parish MP, district and parish councillors at a meeting called by the A35 Action Group with Highways England, to discuss remedial measures on the A35 in Wilmington. Some progress was made and I shall continue to press strongly on the dreadful situation faced by Wilmington residents.
2. On 25 October, I joined residents in meeting the acting manager of Tesco, Seaton, to discuss traffic calming and safety measures and other improvements to improve the quality of life of people living in Swan Road and Royal Observer Way. I also brought the harm caused by ‘boy racers’ at a meeting of the Axe Valley Local Action Group attended by the new Neighbourhood Beat Manager, PC Adam Speers.
3. I have authorised funding from my Locality Budget for the erection of a Vehicle Activated Sign (VAS) at the western entrance to Colyford, which will flash up ’30, Slow Down’ to anyone driving over the speed limit. We have agreed in principle that it is desirable to erect a second VAS at the other end of the villagr. I am paying in full for the first VAS in order to make progress in the current financial year, on the understanding that funding for a second sign will be a matter for Colyton Parish Council to consider in budgeting for 2018-19.
4. I met with Highways to discuss reducing the speed limit on Seaton Down Hill to 40
5. I am still negotiating with Highways about how the additional funds for road patching which were recently made available should be used. Some roads have been confirmed for the programme and parishes have been informed, but others remain under discussion.
6. I am also working to ensure that repairs on several roads agreed before I was elected, but which have not yet been completed as promised, get done.
7. New waiting restrictions in Beer and in Beer Road, Seaton, are included in the new Traffic Order which is out for consultation. After discussions with Colyton Parish Council, I agreed that proposed yellow lines at Prospect Terrace should not be included.
Reports from Devon County Council meetings
1. Locality budget. Most of my £10,000 budget for 2017-18 is still uncommitted so new applications from parish/town councils and community organisations are welcome.
2. Rural broadband coverage. This is a big issue for our rural areas. The Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Scrutiny Committee (CIRS), on which I sit, has set up a standing Task Group to monitor this issue. 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. At the 26 September 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.
3. Mobile phone coverage. This is also of great concern in rural areas of the division. Following complaints by constituents in Branscombe, I protested to O2 about the withdrawal of their TuGo services which enabled people to make mobile calls and send texts via WiFi; people will now be forced to upgrade their phones to get a similar service. O2 has declined to postpone the change. (CIRS 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.)
4. Schools funding cuts. The County Council meeting heard that Devon schools are losing £33 per pupil this year owing to cuts in Government funding. I supported a Liberal Democrat proposal to restore this funding from Council reserves, but this was defeated by the Conservative majority. On top of this, it has been confirmed that under the Government’s new funding formula, local schools will see under-inflation rises: Seaton Primary, the worst hit, will get only a 1 per cent cash rise over two years (inflation is currently 3 per cent p.a. = 6 per cent over 2 years).
5. Reductions in Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs). I attended a Local Policing Spotlight Review at which speakers included the Chief Constable. The police said that, although they didn’t wish to cut neighbourhood police, like other forces they are reducing the numbers of PCSOs because of funding cuts. They are switching from ‘neighbourhood’ to ‘local’ policing, with more staff supporting local policing based in HQ. They have a ‘rural policing engagement group’ which is looking at measures like recruiting Special Constables to maintain the neighbourhood presence.
6. Urban congestion and air pollution task group. I am a member of this group which CIRS has set up. I will emphasise that centralising services in Exeter contributes to congestion; we need to retain facilities in towns and villages.
7. EU workers in Devon’s health and care services. Following concerns by Council officers about the loss of EU workers in health and care services, I asked a question in Council as to whether figures were available. I was told the Council does not collect them; in response, I suggested they should do so, and in the meanwhile should also reassure EU citizens working in Devon that their presence is valued.
If you wish to read all correspondence on Honiton and Seaton Hospital Bed Closures please go to the Health updates page.
Devon County Council’s Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Chair, Councillor Sara Randall Johnson, should immediately consider her position following the stinging rebuke issued to her by the Council’s Standards Committee. The Council should also act to restore the credibility of Health Scrutiny, since its failure to fully scrutinise the removal of community hospital beds in Honiton, Okehampton and Seaton has destroyed public confidence in its activities across a large swathe of Devon.
At its meeting on 29 August, minutes of which are published today, the Standards Committee agreed that while Cllr Randall Johnson had not broken the Members’ Code of Conduct, she should ‘be strongly reminded of the importance of the work of scrutiny committees – reinforcing the value of neutrality in scrutiny both generally and in calling the “health service” to account – and the need to be seen to be even handed and scrupulously fair, recognising that failure to do so may be perceived as a deliberate act.’
The call for a Scrutiny Chair to ‘be strongly reminded of the importance of the work’ of her committee, and of the value of neutrality and being seen to be even-handed and fair, is unprecedented and should lead Cllr Randall Johnson to immediately consider her position. There is no public confidence that she will lead the committee to carry out full and impartial scrutiny of NHS decision-making.
The Standards Committee also ‘accepts that the events of the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee meeting on 25 July 2017 may not reflect well on individual Members or upon the Council as a whole, and further recognises that the perception gained by persons present at the meeting or subsequently viewing the webcast is not that which would have been desired’.
This stark acknowledgement of the damage done to Devon County Council’s reputation also requires early action by the Council to reassure the public that the Committee will do its job properly in future and protect the NHS in Devon.
The Scrutiny Committee ignored the views of local communities and their representatives and has allowed the CCG to get away with damaging cuts. The Council must now consider how to restore people’s faith that it will protect all our community hospitals in the future. I shall ensure that this is discussed when the Council meets on 5th October.
Independent East Devon Alliance County Councillor for Seaton & Colyton
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Seaton & Colyton includes Beer, Branscombe, Colyford, Farway, Northleigh, Offwell, Southleigh and Wilmington