To consider reports from Cabinet Members.
The Council received reports from the relevant Cabinet Members on matters of interest or service developments relating to their remits which had occurred since the previous meeting or were likely to have an impact in the future or on specific issues upon which they had been asked to comment, as set out below:
(a) Policy, Corporate and Asset Management
Councillor Hart was asked to comment, by Councillor Hannaford on budget cuts, potential funding gaps for future years and economic modelling and also on the regional and local work being done in these and other areas, with others, and ministries, to protect local residents, communities and businesses from a no deal Brexit.
The Leader commented that the budget situation was currently unknown, particularly with the General Election pending. The budget settlement for 2020/2021 was also not yet available. In terms of Brexit, again the General Election added to the uncertainty and whilst contingency plans were in place, much was on hold pending the outcome of the Election.
The Leader also responded to questions on the resilience of Devon and the general underfunding of Local Government.
(b) Community, Public Health, Transportation and Environment
Councillor Croad circulated a report, as requested by Councillor Hannaford on the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library of the United Kingdom and any work undertaken to assess the viability for its roll out as well as available data on access to books for local children.
The Report highlighted that the cost of the books and the number of children in Devon meant the funding required would be in the region of £2.036m. There was a range of offers already in place including Bookstart (Libraries Unlimited), BookTrack and the national Summer Reading Challenge scheme. In addition, working with the Virtual Schools Team, a library membership card and £5 book token was sent to all children new into care in Devon. Appendix 1 to the Report gave further information on the Summer Reading Challenge and data on the number of children book issues for each library.
The Cabinet Member stated that whilst such schemes (Dolly Parton Imagination Library) had a place, there was no substitute for young people and families being engaged with their local library and gaining access to good quality and free resources.
He also responded to Councillor G Hook on the recently published study by "Climate Central" which had stated large areas of Devon would be underwater by 2050. Of note, the Cabinet Member said that the new online mapping tool (by Climate Central) showed the theoretical risk of flooding in coastal areas associated with projected future sea level rise. However, this mapping was based on ground elevation data, and did not take account of existing flood defences.
The Environment Agency had specific responsibility for such coastal (and associated main river) flooding although the Council often worked closely with them in addressing such risks, e.g. the Council’s investment of £3 million in the Exeter Flood Defence Scheme. The Devon Local Flood Risk Management Strategy would be revised in 2020 and would take account of the latest climate change projection.
The Authority had an important role in working with others through the Devon Climate Emergency to highlight the risks presented by climate change, to mitigate these impacts and support adaptation to identified risks, including sea level rise.
He also responded to Councillor Atkinson’s request to report on Universal Credit and cuts in benefits and repaying debts and loans, the numbers in Devon and demographic profile of those affected and the impact on health and wellbeing. He reported that at August 2019, 17,335 households in Devon were in receipt of Universal Credit, representing around 25% of those in receipt of means tested benefits. Data published in The Guardian on 23/11/19 indicated that nationally (for May 2019), 1,048,000 Universal Credit claimants had a deduction of their benefit payment out of 1,759,000 claimants. The Report outlined the aims of Universal Credit and also that changes had been introduced by the Department of Work and Pensions to make advance payments more readily available in response to hardship. It also highlighted that the largest deductions made were due to overpaid tax credits.
The Cabinet Member added that detailed demographic information for Devon would be researched and the data made available to Members. Enquires would also made be with the District Councils to establish if any of the findings were related to uptake of the discretionary assistance funds or were reflected in other areas such as Food Bank referrals or rent/Council Tax arrears.
In relation to National Tree Week, responding to Councillor Atkinson on the measures the Council was taking to ensure that all of its transactions in relation to highways, rights of way, cycle paths, managing, leasing, occupying land and dealing with planning applications took account of the role that trees and hedges played in tackling the climate emergency, including environmental audits and protection measures, the Cabinet Member highlighted the many ways in which the Council was supporting the protection and planting of trees.
The Report stated how consideration was given to the protection of trees and hedges through the planning process, tree and hedge protection policies (in the National Planning Policy Framework), ‘biodiversity net gain’ through the Council’s planning role, including new woodland areas and hedges, rather than minimising and mitigating unavoidable impacts upon these. The Report also referred to the Council’s environmental review process for DCC developments as well as its role on the maintenance of the trees and the sign up to the Devon ash dieback 3/2/1 replacement principle.
Lastly, in response to Councillor Shaw, the Cabinet Member commented on the request to update the Council on any discussions with Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service about the implications of proposed cuts and emergency planning issues. He highlighted that the Council formed part of the Local Resilience Forum (LRF) which had the statutory responsibility for coordinating the response to major incidents in Devon. Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service was a Category 1 responder in its own right and, as part of the LRF, had to ensure that it was able to respond fully to any major incidents in Devon. The Cabinet Member also said that, as far as he was aware, no decisions had yet been made on the final configuration of services and, as part of the LRF, the Devon Emergency Planning Service would be engaged with any future arrangements.
(c) Children’s Services and Schools
Councillor McInnes circulated a Report, as requested, by Councillor Hannaford on care children sexually abused or exploited while missing from homes and the work of the Council to counter any trends and any unregulated homes in Devon. This highlighted the types of provision that could be provided for young people (for under 16 a family placement or children’s home and for over 16 other solutions such as supported accommodation or lodgings), the quality assurance of 16+ placements, the challenge of sufficiency and work to increase provision including a ‘market development plan’, a proposed block contract and the ‘Fixing the System Project’. The Report also stated the numbers in supported accommodation and episodes of being missing from this (which had reduced by 60% from 534 in 17/18 to 213 in 18/19) and then the follow up processes such as a ‘Return Home Interview’.
The Cabinet Member’s Report also explained that young people who had experienced trauma could be at risk of exploitation and missing episodes could be a key factor. Any child considered at risk was assessed and a plan put in place. There were currently 60 young people who had these assessments at various stages of risk. Also, training had recently been provided and the Safer Devon Partnership (with Devon Children and Families Partnership) had published the Exploitation Toolkit and a Preventing Exploitation Toolkit, which ensured the risks of exploitation were recognised. A further training day for providers of supported accommodation / residential units on exploitation and missing had been set for 21st January.
He also reported on the number of children carrying weapons in schools, again requested by Councillor Hannaford, how such incidents were recorded and what was being done collectively across the educational community. The Cabinet Member highlighted that Devon was a safe place to live and the rare nature of such incidents, with fewer than five children permanently excluded from school for possession of an offensive weapon during 2018/19. However, knife crime was a shared responsibility, led by the Safer Devon Partnership (SDP), and Community Safety Partnerships led the delivery of work to tackle all forms of anti-social behaviour including knife crime. The Cabinet Member also reported on the new adolescent safety framework led by the Devon Children and Families Partnership (DCFP) and SDP as well as the Turning Corners project which has been created in response to increased gang related issues within South Devon and Torbay.
The Cabinet Member finally updated the Council on the 30 year anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This was an agreement signed by Government, along with 196 other countries that listed 42 promises made to children and young people to ensure they were all treated equally and fairly, covering all aspects of a child’s life. The agreement explained how adults and Governments must work together to make sure all children could enjoy all those ‘rights’ including a right to a childhood, survival and development, never suffer discrimination, have decisions made in their best interests and have a right to participate and be heard.
The Cabinet Member re-affirmed the Council’s ongoing commitments to promoting and respecting the rights of children and young people as well as welcoming the proposed activities of the Council’s Participation Team to co-design and co-ordinate a child rights project over the next year.
(d) Adult Social Care and Health Services
Councillor Leadbetter circulated a Report, as requested by Councillor Hannaford, on the issue of people with autism and learning disabilities and mental health units and how the Council worked with others to access and implement proposed new national training and how new improved measures would be achieved in Devon. The Cabinet Member reported that Devon had been successful in this area and was recognised by NHSE as delivering best practice for adults. Devon’s Transforming Care Partnership was a multi-agency Steering Group (the Council was a part) overseeing progress to reduce the number of children and adults with a learning disability/and or autism who were placed in out of area in-patient settings.
The Council and Health worked together in a number of ways to ensure the appropriate care of children with learning disabilities and autism, for example mental health requirements and specialist commissioning, the CAMHS service, a SEND Improvement Board to plan services and improve capacity (including national training) and the TCP Steering Group.
Locally agencies had recognised the need to expand and develop services for people with learning disabilities and/or autism and were investing to improve the availability of support. In conjunction with Devon Partnership Trust, Devon had developed a ‘blue light’ protocol to bring together health and social care professionals to proactively support people in the community where possible and avoid hospital admissions. Across the Devon STP, a new model of support was being implemented to ensure timely access to health and care support and in Devon, there was autism awareness and training built into the workforce development plan.
(e) Economy and Skills
Councillor Gilbert circulated a Report, as requested by Councillor Atkinson, on the Local Electricity Bill, which if made law, would make the setup and running costs of selling renewable electricity to local customers proportionate by establishing a Right to Local Supply.
The Cabinet Member gave the background and an overview of the Local Electricity Bill, drafted by Power for People - https://powerforpeople.org.uk. He added that the Council had long recognised the potential for community-scale and community-owned renewable energy and that the Council had over 20 community energy organisations collaborating through the Devon Community Energy Network - https://www.devoncommunityenergy.org.uk/.
The vision for many of these organisations was local people buying locally-generated renewable energy that supported the local economy, but maximising the opportunities was difficult. A community with local renewable generation could not sell the energy they generated to local people but had to sell it to a utility who subsequently sold it on to customers. Part of the Bill included a mechanism that would do this, so if enacted, would give generators of electricity the right to become local suppliers.
For Devon, this could mean that the successful community energy sector could implement new business models and grow by continuing to engage local people on local energy issues and take ownership over their energy futures and local carbon emissions.
(f) Highways Management
Councillor Hughes commented, as requested by Councillor Greenslade on the cost of highway maintenance caused by the recent heavy rain. The Cabinet Member said that the Council had received over 326 reports of flooding for the month, including 394 call outs. Many reports were as a result of defects and / or drainage systems failing due to sheer volume and blocked gullies, ditches, grips caused by leaf fall, debris and high water tables.
The cost to date had been in the region of £400k. Such weather had a knock-on effect to highways assets, for example retaining wall and slope stability with the prolonged severe weather being a significant factor in the landslip on the A386 near Landcross.
The Cabinet Member confirmed he was not aware of any roads still currently affected by flood water.
The Cabinet Member also responded to questions on drainage improvement near Barnstaple hospital, the Council’s readiness for snow and inclement weather, school safety and CCTV data from Balls Farm Road, timeliness of advisory disabled bays and the policy for provision of grit bins.