To consider reports from Cabinet Members.
The Council received reports from the relevant Cabinet Members on specific issues upon which they had been asked to comment, as set out below:
(a) Policy, Corporate and Asset Management
Councillor Hart circulated a Report, as requested by Councillor Hannaford, on the County Farms Estate, investment and development work and the commitment and vision for the future. The Leader highlighted that the Farms Estate was in an improved condition since 2009 and there had been no plan to sell the Estate. Whilst there was less farms than was the case in 2009, they were now more practical and viable for tenants. He summarised the Estates activity since 2009 in terms of land acquisition and sales, investment in replacement land, the generation of £27,896,345 in capital receipts and investment of £10,871,595 in improved infrastructure.
(b) Economic Recovery and Skills
Councillor Gilbert circulated a Report, as requested by Councillor Hannaford, on the surge in GPS equipment thefts from farms, work through trading standards operations with key partners in Devon to tackle the issues, work with tenant farmers to protect equipment and property and the data, figures and trends about agricultural crime in Devon. He highlighted that the Devon, Plymouth, Somerset & Torbay Trading Standards Service (TS) had close working links with both Devon & Cornwall and Avon & Somerset Police forces and officers liaise with their Rural Affairs Teams on a regular basis, sharing intelligence and monitoring rural crime trends.
He also reported on the UK & Australia Free Trade Agreement and the impact of the Agricultural Sector and any representations made by the Council with Devon Members of Parliament to ensure the best deal for Devon was achieved and also on the analysis and scoping work that had been undertaken to assess the potential strengths, weaknesses and threats from the changes, for farmers, food producers and rural communities. He added that the Council’s close working partners and the NFU had undertaken an indepth analysis of the deal, which they had shared with our Economic Recovery and Skills team. Recent briefings to Senior Ministers, MPs and Civil Servants had also be provided on this issue.
He further reported on economic activity up to 2019 for Devon (as this was the latest data available) and also provisional national data for the first part of 2021 which had just been released covering issues such as unemployment and vacancy data (by gender, age and District) as well as the outlook and issues for key sectors such as agriculture engineering, health and social care, tourism and retail.
A full set of tables were attached in the Appendix to the Report.
The Cabinet Member highlighted that a commissioned project on economic projections predicted a forecasted loss of output / productivity similar to the UK wide impact of almost 10% for 2020 as a whole, but with particular lags in recovery in Mid and West Devon and a slightly faster recovery in Exeter.
The rapidly changing situation in all sectors across Devon was being closely monitored.
(c) Public Health, Communities and Equality
Councillor Croad circulated a Report, as requested by Councillor Hannaford, on the Rape Review Report, the conviction rates, the proposed range of measures and the response of the Police and Police and Crime Commissioner, action plan, local statistics, monitoring of ‘scorecards’ and the support and promotion to help develop this initiative working with key partners. He added that the Commissioner had published a statement following publication of the Review recognising that more needed to be done to support victims of rape. https://www.devonandcornwall-pcc.gov.uk/news-and-blog/multimedia-hub/commissioner-urges-sexual-assault-victims-to-seek-support-as-government-highlights-‘systemic-failings’-in-criminal-justice-system/. Devon and Cornwall Police had also begun working with partners and local services to improve the response it provided to all victims of rape which addressed many of the issues identified in the Review. There was a joint action plan with the Crown Prosecution Service, a bid had been made for new funding to enhance forensic investigation services and a wide range of work underway with partners to improve services to victims of rape and serious sexual assault. For the Local Criminal Justice Board, this would be a key area for focus.
(d) Children’s Services and Schools
Councillor Leadbetter circulated a report, as requested by Councillor Connett on the Ofsted letter of 15 July 2021 regarding Children's Services in Devon.
The Cabinet Member highlighted that the inspection covered nine different areas which were set out in Ofsted’s inspection framework and were explained the Report under three broad headings of help and protection, children in care and care leavers and the impact of leaders.
The main findings were outlined in the Report and whilst a number of strengths had been recognised it was recognised that the improvement journey was at an early stage.
The Cabinet Member reiterated the Council’s commitment and determination to get things right for children and to not rest until this was achieved.
The Cabinet Member and also responded to questions on press releases, special meetings, data on affected families, the importance of working together and effective Scrutiny.
(e) Organisational Development, Workforce and Digital Transformation
Councillor Saywell circulated a Report, as requested by Councillor Whitton on the current position with handling of Freedom of Information requests, including timescales and response times and any backlogs or anticipated increases in the number of requests. Also, the position with general enquiries received through the Customer Services Centre or individual department mailboxes.
The Report highlighted that during COVID the Freedom of Information (FOI) service had been temporarily suspended to re-deployment of staff. It had been reinstated in July 2020.
The Report gave data on how many FOI’s were not being replied to within the normal recommended response time, the average time being taken for requests to be answered in full, the current trend in numbers of requests received and action being taken to deal with any backlog or address any anticipated increase in the number of requests expected to be received.
The Cabinet Member also responded to a question on sharing of the data with the Corporate Infrastructure and Regulatory Services Scrutiny Committee.