Minute Number 48.
DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL (COUNCILLOR) REPORT
Councillor Mrs L Hellyer
During the summer, any white lines/words on the highways within the parish will be repainted, if necessary
My time is busy with the various committees at DCC, the busiest of which are Children’s scrutiny and Health and Adult care scrutiny. I am on a task group looking at SEND (Special educational needs and disabilities) and one looking at how to reduce Ambulance waiting times. I am also on the Development and Management committee looking at Planning for Highways, Schools and Minerals. In addition to that, I chair the Public Rights of Way Committee and also the Highways and Traffic Orders committee (HATOC).
Demand for services is higher than ever before, set against a background of rising prices and market shortages. This trend of rising demand pressure and rising prices is likely to continue into 2023, which will create a challenging financial environment going forward.
I recently had a meeting with the Head of Highways. Highways schemes are usually programmed 12-18 months ahead. However, the way things are now, Highways know what work they are doing for the next 3 months, and they know what they hope to do for the following 3 months, but after that, nothing is certain anymore.
The highest costs to the authority are the statutory duties of looking after vulnerable children and vulnerable adults of working age.
Since I met with the Head of Highways DCC has said that it has a £30million “black hole” in the budget at the end of Month 2 of the current financial year. This looks set to rise to £40million with staff pay rises, and this is apart for the deficit that we have for our high needs Children’s budget. DCC is waiting for a settlement from Central government to refund some of the high needs Children’s services deficit. By law Dcc has to present a balanced budget, and economic pressures this year are indicating that it will increasingly be hard to set the budget for the next financial year.
I am told that the costs for out Highways works have gone up considerably and schools transport is another area with a huge hike in costs. We have several contractors who take children with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) to school, resign as the fuel cost are so prohibitive.
Mostly at my town and parish meetings folk talk to me about Highways issues- usually potholes, drains, speeding and parking. As of the 12th of July, there were 711 recorded potholes awaiting repair. The timescales for these potholes to be repaired is based on a risk-based approach laid out in the current Highways safety policy which was approved by cabinet in December 2020. Our team of Highways Safety Inspectors determines whether the response should be immediate (within 2 hours), next day, in 7 days or 28 days based on the risk to the road user. They can also select a 90-day response for non-safety repairs.
The biggest immediate challenge facing the Highways and traffic Management service is inflation which has seen costs for services rise by approximately 15% in the first 6 months of the year. The service must prioritise safety related works over preventative maintenance, so the reactive response to potholes is unlikely to be affected. The impacts will be felt in the non-safety related cyclical type activities which is likely to lead to a longer-term deterioration of the network.
Devon County Council (DCC) is drafting a briefing for MPs. The service has been in discussion with the Department for Transport, other highways authorities across the Southwest and South of the country and spoken with the chair of ADEPT (Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport) to ensure consistency of messaging.
All the departments have been asked to look to see where they can save money. Obviously all the “low hanging fruit” in savings has been made during the years of austerity e.g., staffing levels have been halved and redundant buildings have been sold off... I have had some of my road schemes that were due to happen next month cancelled and there is very little drainage budget left for this financial year. Emergency drainage schemes will be prioritised.
OFSTED visited DCC in 2018 and found that some Children’s services required improvement. They have recently revisited, and despite a new management structure and many positive changes there is still a lot of work to do e.g. to reduce the backlog of annual assessments and to improve the timeliness and quality of EHCP’s (Education and Health Care Plans). The Interim Deputy Director of Children’s Services is working closely with the Parent carer Forum to improve communication and outcomes for the Children and young people. The leadership team has demonstrated to OFSTED that they already have a clear understanding of the weaknesses in the service and how to address these, and that they are already taking steps to deliver improvement.
DCC is struggling to fill vacancies e.g., for Children’s social workers, but has recently recruited 20 social workers from abroad- mostly from Zimbabwe.
Because of the housing crisis. DCC having difficulty recruiting staff to many areas of the council e.g., educational psychologists, School nurses, Highways engineers, Community Enforcement officers (“traffic wardens”) etc. and is looking at buying or leasing accommodation for new starter key workers. For some posts there is a nationwide shortage of recruits.
DCC has written to Stagecoach, who recently reduced their services again. This resulted in 6 routes for school children in the county being affected. Stagecoach has been struggling since the pandemic, as many of their drivers left to drive HGVs for higher wages. It takes them one minute to lose a driver and 16 weeks to train a new driver. That, the cost of fuel and Covid 19, has impacted their service. They have also loaned at least 29 drivers to help out at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham July 28th until the 8th August to help move the athletes around. However, this kind act is also likely to impact on services in Devon.
As you may remember, after the trial of 20mph was concluded in Newton Abbot, Parishes were invited to submit request for 20mph. There were certain criteria, including schools, hospitals and nurseries being apriority and questions about social deprivation. DCC had planned to role out 10 schemes from the many request that were received. I had applied for 20mph outside ETW school in Alverdiscott road and outside St Marys School in Chanters Road. In both cases this would have involved extending an existing nearby 20mph zone. As we are an area of High social deprivation, I had high hopes. However, for this financial year those hopes have been dashed. Because of budgetary pressures, DCC is only rolling out 4 schemes across the county at a cost of £100,000. I did stand up at the full council and make the case for Bideford and express my disappointment. I will continue to lobby DCC to make sure these schemes are at the top of the list next time.
After all the gloomy news I am pleased to say the work on the “new” library is underway, and that £1.7million is ringfenced.
I am also within touching distance of getting 5 streetlamps for the top third of Old Barnstaple Road towards Manteo Way. This is a popular cut through to town from the estates on Manteo Way but does not feel very safe in the darker months, as it is pitch black with no footway. The streetlights that I got for Mines Road have made a real difference as I discovered when I walked home from our Jubilee celebrations at Pollyfield.
I am pleased to say that drop-in meetings have now recommenced at Bideford Link Centre. The building is due to have new windows fitted and some essential maintenance done at the end of August, and it has been arranged that the “link” can decamp to DCC’s youth club building on the pill, until the work is completed. I am now invited to the management meetings at the Link Centre and very soon service users will be able to have representatives at the meetings to say what sort of groups they would like to see at the Link. Previously they had things like mindfulness, cookery, badminton, and some groups they organised themselves e.g. Music and Gardening. DCC pays for this non statutory mental health service but the Devon Partnership trust (NHS) deliver it. They are currently working with local community groups so that the underused building can become a hub with services that will aid the service user’s recovery.
There has been some low-level antisocial behaviour in the Biddiblack way play park and I have approached “Space” who run the DCC youth Club on The Pill if they can do some outreach work up there. In the summer holidays they close the club and do outreach work instead and I am hoping that their management will sign off for the youth workers to cover East the water, including Pollyfield and the railway station.
Wearing my Councillor advocate hat, and also my town council Police liaison hat, I have spoken to our Police Inspector and Police Sergeant about the antisocial behaviour in East the water and particularly at jubilee Square. The Mayor, Cllr Gubb, and I were invited to a team building day with the local police sector, and we discussed these matters at length. The Police work in partnership with TDC to distribute the dispersal orders to those exhibiting antisocial behaviour e.g., drunkenness. This is a civil matter, but they ban people from e.g., the town centre for a set time... If the people come back too soon, they have breached the order. The Police need TDC to support them when people breach the dispersal orders as it then becomes a criminal matter, and they can be charged. Town councillors who are twin hatters might be minded to follow this up with TDC. Of course, we also need services to support e.g., Street drinkers and those with other addictions towards recovery
I have £2000 less Locality money this year, but I have been able to divide the £8000 I do have among local community groups in Bideford and my 6 other parishes.
Routine matters such as potholes, overgrown vegetation, blocked drains and gullies, streetlights, damage to signs, damaged manhole covers etc can be reported via the Devon County Council website Google Devon County council report a problem and a page will come up with icons e.g., potholes. Click on the icon and follow the simple instructions.
Alternatively, you can telephone the customer care team. 0345 155 1015
For Highways telephone 0345 155 1004
Out of Hours highways EMERGENCIES ONLY 01392 380 380 or 0345 155 1008
In the event of flooding the control room number is 01392 383329
Mud or Slurry on the roads and Speeding are Police matters.
You can email 101 from a smart phone, or telephone 101
You may find it quicker to go onto the Devon and Cornwall Police website and use the Live chat facility.
There is also the option to email your local police team.
I am always happy for residents to contact me.