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,
of the Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ White Paper and the progress of the Devon Devolution Deal. The Leader outlined the aims, objectives and ambitions for Devon of the deal, which was one of nine to start formal negotiations to agree a new ‘County Deal’. The pan-Devon area would be a Level 2 area where a County Deal could devolve powers such as control of appropriate local transport functions, ability to introduce bus franchising, the ability to provide input into Local Skills Improvement Plans, and Homes England compulsory purchase powers.
The next step were talks with Ministers and officials over the coming weeks to move ahead as quickly as possible and the Leader committed to keeping Members up to date with progress.
The Report also gave a summarised version of the recent Race Audit report, action points and how the programme of works would move forward. The Leader said that making Devon a fairer and more equal county was one of the six priorities in the Strategic Plan 2021 – 2025 which was recently adopted. He also said more work was required to ensure Black, Asian and other Ethnically Diverse staff felt included and were able to express their needs and experiences safely. The proposed 2022/23 budget included provision for additional investment in equality, diversity and inclusion. The Leader said all Members would be invited to participate in a discussion and Scrutiny Committees would also have an important part to play in oversight of progress.
The Report finally explained the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Landscape Recovery Scheme, as part of the Government’s Agricultural Transition Plan (2021 to 2024). This was a move away from direct subsidy payments and Defra was planning to open applications for Landscape Recovery pilot projects in at two rounds over the next two years. The Report commented that through the Councils role on the Devon Local Nature Partnership (DLNP) it was supporting organisations to apply and work together to submit applications and provide signposting and information to support their applications. Also, the County Farms had the opportunity to collaborate with potential lead partners (larger landowners across the County).
The Farms estate (dispersed across the County) did not have the areas of land eligible for the scheme to be a lead partner in the bid but could engage with other stakeholders through the DLNP forum to consider inclusion in the overall bid.
(b) Public Health, Communities and Equality
Councillor Croad circulated a Report, as requested by Councillor Hannaford on the current Afghan Refugee Resettlement Scheme, highlighting that the Council, alongside key partners, continued to oversee and support two temporary bridging hotels within the County (Exmouth and Exeter). This included the establishment of a multi-disciplinary team to oversee both hotels which allowed for effective collaboration to meet the presenting needs of families, for example GP registration, access to public health nursing and the ambition to establish a Women’s Health Clinic. Transitions into education had gone well, adults had been engaged with local ESOL provision and there were good links with Job Centre Plus.
Both DCC and Devon’s District Councils continued to seek appropriate and affordable housing to meet local pledges towards the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy and Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme.
Last, he was asked to update on the use of Coronavirus vaccines in Devon, including the number of vaccines available during the last six months, the number of vaccines administered per month during the last six months and the number of vaccines that not administered for any reason per month and what happened to them. The Cabinet Member reported verbally that all of the data requested was held externally and not readily available to the Council. However, this would be shared once received.
(c) Children’s Services and Schools
Councillor Leadbetter commented, as requested by Councillor Letch on Elective Home Education in view of the move towards a central register of home educated children, including DCC's register, figures, quality assurance on their education checked, monitoring of physical and mental wellbeing and records of academic attainment. The Cabinet Member highlighted there was currently no legislation to require parents who had chosen to Electively Home Educate to register their child with the Local Authority, however, there was a statutory requirement for schools to notify the Local Authority when a child was removed from their school roll. The Report gave the figures for EHE children for the past 5 years, including the gender split as well as whether they were of primary or secondary school ages. It was also noted there had been a significant increase in EHE case numbers in October 2020 and that the Council commissioned Babcock LDP to provide an EHE Service, including designated EHE Advisers who provided support to home educating families and assessed the suitability of the EHE provision.
The Report also highlighted progress being made to deal with the backlog in processing EHCP requests, including timescales and prioritisation of the waiting list and how the Council proposed to meet the need to increase the number of Educational Psychologists. The Cabinet Member highlighted the recently appointed new Deputy and SEND Strategic Director had started to create a backlog team of experienced virtual interims to oversee the outstanding annual reviews. The Waiting List was also prioritised according to statutory guidance. He added there was both a national and local shortage of Educational Psychologists (EPs) but listed a number of current actions to improve timeliness as well as steps to mitigate the impact of the delays on children and schools.
(d) Economic Recovery and Skills
Councillor Gilbert circulated a Report as requested by Councillor Hannaford on the decision to appoint administrators at Midas and the anticipated job losses, and effect on local contractors, subcontractors, manufacturers and supply chains and work with education and training providers to support young people. Also, confirming that the Council had no contractual liabilities with Midas in relation to any SCF contracts nor any current live projects. The Cabinet Member commented that further developments continued to occur, which the Council was continuing to monitor. An Employment Support Session for Midas colleagues and those affected in the supply chain had been arranged for 17 February.
The Report also highlighted the new banking system which helped small towns cope with the closure of High Street bank branches being pioneered in Brixham (a banking ‘hub’ run by the Post Office). The Cabinet Member was asked what work could be done by the Council, working with other key partners to help develop new Post Office Banking Hubs across Devon. He reported that the Council recognised the need for the County’s people, businesses and organisations to be able to physically access banking facilities and cash. He further reported on the Council’s response to an evidence request on an inquiry into the Postal Network by the UK Government’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee which provided evidence on a range of post office roles and opportunities across Devon as well as the Banking function that could be provided and enhanced through the Post Office Network and examples of this. The Council continued to be supportive of the role that Post-Offices and especially co-located banking facilities had for communities and businesses and would welcome the provision of further Banking Hubs, should the pilot in places such as Brixham prove to be successful.
He agreed to speak with Councillor Connett outside of the meeting in relation to a local issue.
(e) Climate Change, Environment and Transport
Councillor Davis commented, as requested by Councillor Whitton on the Council’s plans to support and improve bus services across the County should the bid for funding under the Bus Improvement Plan be unsuccessful. The Cabinet Member highlighted that the Department for Transport had been reviewing 79 plans received and was now prioritising the proposals for funding, the outcome for Devon was expected by the end of February. She also expressed her concern at the ending of the Bus Recovery Grant and had written to both the Secretary of State for Transport and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport to ask that they consider continuing this funding for at least a further 6 months to give time for further recovery in passenger numbers.
The long-term aim was to improve the public transport network to provide a sustainable transport solution, but in the short term needing to ensure as much of the existing network was retained if Government funding was not forthcoming.
(f) Highway Management
Councillor Hughes circulated a Report, as requested by Councillor Connett on the arrangements for community-requested street closures for events to mark and celebrate the Queen's Platinum Jubilee. 6 weeks’ notice was required for events planned on the public highway and a temporary traffic restriction to close the road would be required for which there was no charge to close a minor road for these events. The application form was available online Application for The Big Lunch/National Celebration
He further reported on progress on delivering the A379 highway and pedestrian improvements at Starcross, highlighting that the traffic orders were advertised in the Autumn and had since been approved to progress. The trial footway widening was planned for the Spring, with permanent elements of the scheme to be tied in with the resurfacing of the A379, which was planned for Summer 2022.
He also updated on progress with estimated dates for delivery for the improved cycle path connecting Kennford with Exeter, via the new development at South West Exeter, highlighting there were currently no timescales for progressing the scheme due to Park and Ride bus services suffering and had not yet recovered well with use below 50% as a result of changing commuter patterns. However, the Exeter Transport Strategy 2020-2030 identified the need to support active travel from villages on the edge of Exeter, therefore the Council would seek future funding opportunities to deliver the Kennford to Exeter improvements.
He also reported on progress towards supporting the safety of young people from the Deaf Academy in Douglas Road, Exmouth whilst using the highway outside the school, in light of the previously submitted petition. The Cabinet Member commented that surveys had been undertaken and the Engineering Design Group were reviewing the data and considering road safety options. However, Wig Wag signals had been ordered for Douglas Avenue as a short term measure. He highlighted the criteria for 20 mph limit, as outlined in the recent members briefing and that Douglas Avenue would form part of the local Members consideration.