Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Devon County Council elections: the issues > services

It is not just at District Council level where local government is facing a collapse in the services it provides:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: and facing bankruptcy

The County Council is also having to deal with a squeeze on its budget from central government:
Futures Forum: The assault on Local Government: The Strange Death of Municipal England:
Futures Forum: "Councils in Crisis" >>> a quiet revolution in finding new ways to raise money and deliver services
Futures Forum: County Council calls for "an urgent national review of local government funding" as "thousands of small businesses are set to be hammered by a rise in business rates"

One area of concern has been the cuts to care services:
Futures Forum: The future of our care services: councils increasing tax to fund adult social care

Another is cuts to road maintenance:
Futures Forum: County Council training members of the public to fill in potholes it cannot afford to mend itself

It is difficult to blame local government:

Council spending on 'neighbourhood' services falls by £3bn since 2011

Cuts to services such as bin collection, planning and pothole repair amount to dismantling of core functions of local government, says report

Patrick Butler Social policy editor
Tuesday 25 April 2017

English councils’ spending on neighbourhood services, such as bins, planning, potholes and leisure, has fallen by more than £3bn in the past five years, research has found.

A report, published by the benchmarking group, the Association for Public Service Excellence (Apse), says the huge cuts to funding and the wide variations between authorities in funding services were “changing the very nature of local government.”

The reductions amount to a dismantling of universal services that are the most high-profile, core functions of local government, the report says. “These services need defending in their own right as part of wider defence of local government as a whole.”

Council spending on 'neighbourhood' services falls by £3bn since 2011 | Society | The Guardian
Council neighbourhood services – a thing of the past | East Devon Watch

Indeed, the Conservative-controlled County Council has made several noises:
County council objects to hospital cuts amidst public outcry at Okehampton Hospital's in-patient beds situation | News | Tavistock Times Gazette
Devon County Council pleads with government to reverse cuts - BBC News
38 English councils join forces to oppose school funding changes | Devon Live

On the other hand, with an election looming, all sorts of questions and alternatives are being posed from all sides:

Figures reveal how cuts are hitting Devon's arts funding and youth centres

By Devon Live | Posted: March 29, 2017

New figures reveal how arts funding has been slashed and youth centres hived off in Devon. All spending on arts and culture grants was stopped last year, while three-quarters of youth centres and more than quarter of those for children are no longer in Devon County Council control.

The Conservative-led administration was accused by the Liberal Democrats of having a "huge downer" on young people in the county. "The Conservatives in Devon are making these decisions, but the compelling force behind them is the continuing cut by the Conservative Government to the grant made to the county council," said Alan Connett, leader of the Lib Dem group on the Devon authority. "This means there is £32 less for every child in classrooms in Devon."

However, James McInnes, the Conservative cabinet member responsible for children and schools said the council was "absolutely committed" to children's services which had seen "considerable extra investment".

The figures, obtained following a Freedom of Information request by the Lib Dems, show the arts and culture grants budget fell by 8% in 2015 and was cut completely last year.

Figures reveal how cuts are hitting Devon's arts funding and youth centres | Devon Live

Education law expert blames council for schools cash crisis

Friday, 31 March 2017 By Toby Leigh in Education

A legal expert claims financial mismanagement by Devon County Council is responsible for “unprecedented anger and disquiet” among headteachers over school funding.

South Hams solicitor Antony Power specialises in education law and heads up the education team at Michelmores Solicitors in Exeter.

His words come just days after Devon’s education chief wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May urging her to reconsider a proposed new funding system that could see large numbers of Devon schools lose out. The latest consultation period on the controversial schools national funding formula closed this week.

Mr Power said: “Any parents reading this may well have received a letter from their children’s school warning of a funding crisis. As a lawyer working with schools nationally for more than 15 years, I can say it is unprecedented in my experience for schools to write a letter like this, and it demonstrates the challenge that they are facing.”

Mr Power said schools in Devon faced a “double whammy” of funding challenges.

“As well as the Government not increasing the amount of money they receive to reflect increased staffing costs and a new apprenticeship levy, the county council had cut a further £33 per pupil to cover its “mismanagement” of the special educational needs budget.

He added: “Our local Conserv­ative councillors are trying to say that all local authorities are having to make cuts like the one they have just imposed. As someone who works with schools all over England, I can tell you they are not. Many local authorities foresaw that they would have to spend more on special educational needs and planned for it. In particular, they used money available from the Government to build new special schools, to cut the amount that is spent on private special schools. At the moment, DCC is spending around £12m every year sending Devon children to private special schools, often outside the county.”

Mr Power, who is standing as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the South Brent and Yealmpton division in May’s county council elections, added: “The Liberal Democrats at County Hall urged the Conservative administration not to make the cuts and proposed an alternative budget that would avoid the reduction in school funding.”

Education law expert blames council for schools cash crisis | News | Totnes Times

Free school meals would benefit 500 Ivybridge children says Labour candidate

Friday, 7 April 2017 By Toby Leigh in Politics

A candidate for May’s county council elections has got behind his party’s pledge to provide free school meals for all primary pupils. Tony Rea from Ivybridge said he fully supports the announcement by Labour, and claims around 500 primary pupils in the town alone would benefit.

Labour says 29,019 children across Devon would receive free meals under its proposals. The party has said it will fund the policy by introducing VAT on private school fees, and it "will benefit the educational attainment and health of all children, while ending a subsidy to the privileged few".

Labour cites research by the National Centre for Social Research and the Institute for Fiscal Studies showing universal access to free school meals improves educational attainment, enabling primary school pupils to advance by around two months on average. It also says school meals are a healthier option than packed lunches, containing more fruit and vegetables on average.

Free school meals would benefit 500 Ivybridge children says Labour candidate | News | South Hams Gazette

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