Agenda item

To consider reports from Cabinet Members.

Minutes:

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 commented, as requested by Councillor Hannaford on the proposal for a new ‘devolution deal’ for Devon and how this was being progressed on behalf of Team Devon. The Leader commented on specific aspects such as the separate bid by Plymouth and the outcome of discussions regarding this. The Leader was unclear on what the outcome of the bid might be. The recent change of Secretary of State and associated team may have an impact, but the focus of the discussion paper related to levelling up, connectivity issues, broadband, road and rail, raising the skills of people in Devon and uplifts in production and also encouraging young people, including the important role of apprenticeships.

 

The Leader summarised that the Council was in a good position to go forward with a bid and emphasised the close work with the District Councils who were content with the proposals and supportive of the aims moving forward.

 

(b)       Adult Social Care and Health Services

 

Councillor McInnes circulated a Report, as requested by Councillor Hannaford, on the care workforce in Devon, including the current shortfall, working through the pandemic, the risk to vulnerable people and also what the Council was doing to address the issue and the progress made to date. The Cabinet Member highlighted the current recruitment and retention challenges and said the latest Proud to Care recruitment campaign would run from late September 2021 until January 2022 which would show the range of opportunities in adult social care. 

 

The Report also responded to the request from Councillor Hannaford to report on the Government announcements in relation to Health and Social Care including the 1.25% tax rise and also the impact of this policy decision. He reported there were a number of questions to be answered but there would be a financial impact on the Council from the 1.25% NIC tax rise; both as an employer and as a commissioner of adult social care providers.

 

The Report also highlighted, as requested by Councillor Letch, the arrangements made by the NHS in Devon to connect the parents of babies born with additional needs or disability with the relevant support organisations and charities. The Report highlighted that both the Council and the NHS commissioned and provided a range of services in this respect. The Council’s commissioned services included Public Health Nursing and the various support and referral choices, the SEND local offer, the Disabled Children’s Service, the Devon Early Years Complex Needs Service (Previously Portage), Children Centres, Pinpoint Devon (online directory of community services) and the Specialist Children’s Community Nursing Service, Children and Family Health Devon (CFHD). The Report outlined numerous support organisations and Charities available to support families, carers, children and young people.

 

He also responded to questions on publicising the range of support mechanisms available in terms of babies with additional needs.

 

(c)       Public Health, Communities and Equality

 

Councillor Croad circulated a Report, as requested by Councillor Hannaford on the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme and the work the Council was doing locally to support the initiative, including any additional support for girls and women who had been subjected to female genital mutilation and further work to help facilitate the Locally Employed Staff Resettlement Scheme for former Afghan interpreters and translators and their families, who had been working with Armed Forces.

 

The Report also covered the numbers to be given sanctuary, work with District Councils and arrangements for support and integration, as requested by Councillor Atkinson.

 

He highlighted that the Council and District Councils had been using the existing partnership for Syrian refugee resettlement as the basis for a response to the Afghan Locally Employed relocation scheme. Each District took a decision on whether and how to source housing, but all were highlighting an acute and intensifying shortage of affordable housing.

 

He also reported, as requested by Councillor Letch, on how Devon Registration Service engaged with parents when babies were being registered to suggest if additional support was needed and relevant signposting. The Report outlined that all birth registrations took place in person with new parents being given a library card and a book start pack which contained useful contacts. If parents voiced they needed support then contact information for family/children’s services would be sought for them.

 

The Report contained information, as requested by Councillor Hannaford, on the Department for Work and Pensions new Household Support Fund scheme which was aimed at helping the poorest members of society. At the time of writing the Report, the Council had still not received any further information regarding the Household Support Fund scheme beyond what had been made publicly available. Government launches £500m support for vulnerable households over winter - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).

 

However, the Cabinet Member added that the size of the local allocation had just been announced as £5 million and that the Council would work with Team Devon to draw together learning from the 2020/21 Covid Winter Hardship Fund, wider hardship and welfare funding as well as joining up allocations.

 

Lastly, the Report responded to Councillor Leaver to her request for information on the provision of, and demand for, safe accommodation for Devon residents who were victims of Domestic Violence and Abuse in Devon, and relevant support services over the last six years. It highlighted that the Strategy for Domestic Abuse Support in Safe Accommodation in Devon outlined the current availability of safe accommodation in section 5. The Council had not commissioned safe accommodation for the last six years and prior to the Domestic Abuse Act had not been required to collect data on the demand for safe accommodation. This data was collected and held by District Councils. North Devon Against Domestic Abuse had provided a refuge for the last six years and a variety of providers had had Places of Safety.

 

(d)       Children’s Services and Schools

 

Councillor Leadbetter circulated a Report, as requested by Councillor Hannaford on the extra costs facing schools in England as a result of the coronavirus pandemic not be covered by the Government’s support funding, in particular the additional costs of the pandemic on Devon’s schools and the overall levels of budget deficits that they were carrying. The Report highlighted that schools had identified additional expenditure due to Covid, however the majority for the 20/21 academic year had been offset by Covid grants (for cleaning etc) or grants for Furlough (where eligible). Out of 135 maintained schools, five had reported a deficit budget and based on the latest reports, 12 schools were projecting a deficit for 2021/22 and these had a combined total deficit of £825,000.  The remaining 130 schools had surplus balances for 2020/21 just short of £20m in total.  Based on the current forecasts for 2021/22 this had reduced to 123 schools with surplus balances totalling £16.2m.

 

Councillor Leadbetter’s Report also contained, as requested by Councillor Letch details on the fostering of children in families and institutions, to include the extent to which they were fostered as close to their community as possible to maintain links with friends and schools. The Report also provided some feedback on the views of young people and children who used the services.

 

Councillor Leadbetter also reported, as requested by Councillor’s Hannaford and Biederman on coach firm operators across Devon and other bus companies experiencing driver shortages and in response to Councillor Hannaford the impact on school bus services, in terms of capacity, coverage and costs. He also reported on what the Council was doing in partnership and to assist operators to ensure that local children could access school and college and, as requested by Councillor Biederman, to ensure that people were not late for work, appointments and other important matters. The Cabinet Members Report stated the Council had a legal obligation to get children to school and was fulfilling this at present, however there had been an exception in the previous week. Whilst driver issues continued to be a challenge for Stagecoach, the Council had been in regular contact with the company and it appeared the high turnover and sickness rate was reducing, and they had many new starters as well as a recent pay offer. The situation was expected to improve over the next few weeks and months.

 

Last, the Report responded to Councillor Aves on the Pupil Premium, commenting on funding formulas, free school meals, the impact in Devon and school budget spending, support to schools with finance decisions and representations to the DfE. He added that Devon had a system to support maintained schools who were facing budget challenges and schools who were struggling due to the pupil premium change could apply to the Financial intervention Panel for financial support. Academies had other access to support either through their trust or sometimes the ESFA.

 

(e)       Highway Management

 

Councillor Hughes circulated a Report, as requested by Councillor Dewhirst, on two issues. The first related to residents’ concerns that unrecorded rights of way would not be recorded in time for the cut-off date of 2026. He commented that the legislation allowed for the Secretary of State to extend the date by up to 5 years, however, by acting in a proactive and cooperative way, the Council was well placed to work to the cut-off date of 1 January 2026.

 

The second issue related to the new LED lamps being rolled out across Devon and on progress to mitigate any harmful effects of LED lights on humans and recent reports concerning the negative effects on insects. The Cabinet Member commented on issues such as the current specification of the lights, dimming of LED lights, management software to operate LED lights, total numbers of LED streetlights installed and the use of shields, which tended to be installed as and when residents requested. It was further noted that Town and Parish Councils requested an array of different timings, which was currently not possible, but with the deployment of the remote management system the scenario could be considered. Also, the street lighting team and Council ecologist were in direct contact with one another to improve knowledge of both ecological and lighting concerns.

 

The Report also provided information, as requested by Councillor Wrigley, on road painting, yellow lines and disabled bay lines and delays in works being completed. This outlined that there had been a delay in disabled bays and HATOC waiting restrictions, however the Council had identified and engaged additional contractual resource to increase resilience and clear the backlog of lining schemes. A backlog of over 200 disabled parking bays had now been completed and from December onwards, advisory disabled bay applications would be delivered within target timescales. In addition, the 2020/21 HATOC waiting restrictions programme of works would be substantially complete and, on the ground, utilising this additional resource this month, with completion soon after.

 

(f)        Economic Recovery and Skills

 

Councillor Gilbert circulated a Report, as requested by Councillor Hannaford, on the end of the Government’s furlough job support scheme and the work of the Council, in partnership with others, to help and support those coming off the scheme to find new work, retrain, transition to self-employment and / or start-up businesses. The Cabinet Member highlighted the numbers accessing the support scheme and that the Authority continued to work with District Partners, Job Centre Plus / Department for Work and Pensions, Colleges, and wider community partners. The work had been supplemented by the Council’s £6m recovery support package and current activity included the employability programme, youth hubs, support for people with a disability, the open up to skills programme, pre start-up support, business adaptation support – get set adapt, digital support – digital advance devon, e-commerce pilot, health and social care skills accelerator programme, heart of the south west growth hub service and the thrive programme.

 

He also reported on poverty among pensioners, as requested by Councillor Hannaford, including the triple pension lock, the impact in Devon and work being done to ensure pensioners claimed the help and assistance they were entitled to. The Report highlighted that the Social Security (Uprating of Benefits) Bill 2021-22[1]  published on 8 September 2021 suspended the earnings element of the triple lock for 2022/23 and State Pensions were expected instead to rise by around 3.9%, in line with inflation. The Secretary ofState for Work and Pensions had assured Parliament that the triple lock would be “restored for the remainder of this Parliament”.[2]

 

Pensioners experiencing financial hardship could access DCC-funded help, including money advice from Citizens Advice and the hardship funds administered through the District Councils.

 

He reported, as requested by Councillor Atkinson, on the Team Devon Plan 19 Economy and Business Recovery Prospectus, its aims and priorities and progress in securing those and relevant investment, the cut to Universal Credit and the rise in National Insurance and the anticipated impact on low-income working families and children in Devon. The Report highlighted key announcements to date which included various funding streams (Government’s Getting Building Fund, Fast Track training / bootcamp provision and the Kickstart Programme) and also reported on a study to identify specific issues affecting Coastal and Market towns and the type of support that could help these communities.

 

Also responding to Councillor Atkinson on the cut to Universal Credit and rise in National Insurance and its impact on low-income working families and children in Devon, the Report highlighted it was unclear how the proposals would specifically impact, but early work suggested the proposed cut could affect around 30,000 households. It was difficult to predict how other economic factors might also impact such as inflation and potential benefits from the upward pressure on wages, which were likely to have an impact on individual financial circumstances.

 

Last and also in response to Councillor Atkinson on how the Council was working with others in the South West region including Local Enterprise Partnerships to develop new partnerships to invest in the development of new wind power, ‘green hydrogen’ and carbon neutral and capture technologies in the Southwest, which included investment in the Future Skills Centre within East Devon, work with the University of Exeter through its Clean Mobility Centre, and joint activity around skills linked to the clean aviation pilot at Exeter Airport. The Council had set aside £1.4 million to support Natural Capital, Community Energy, and Green Innovation programmes and had been in discussion with private sector green hydrogen developers and public sector partners to ascertain potential opportunities for Devon.



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