Labour’s Vision for Devon
Devon County Council Elections 2017
Tackling the Economic Challenges
Fighting for Fairer Funding
Defending Devon’s Health Services
Promoting Well Being
Protecting Vulnerable People and Improving Social Care
Nurturing Children and Young People
Supporting Rural Communities
Caring For Our Environment
Improving Transport in Devon
Keeping Devon Safe
Local government faces its biggest challenge for decades with further swingeing cuts by the Conservative government reducing funding. In Devon ‘austerity’ has meant a reduction of £208m over the last six years - a cut of 64% in real terms with a further cut of £23.3m (15.4%) for next year. The crisis in funding for adult social care grows daily more disturbing. Services are disappearing, handed over to a struggling charitable sector or privatised. It is vital that the new County Council secures fairer funding for Devon.
We also face the opportunities and challenges of devolution in addition to the uncertainties for Devon of a post-Brexit Britain. In the current unstable world the Labour Party believes it is even more important to promote the values of inclusion and diversity. We unequivocally condemn discrimination on the basis of poverty, age, disability, gender, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, race, religion and belief, and we are committed to combating hate crime, to promoting equality and to fostering good relations between all.
Whilst we believe that only the change to a Labour government can fully enable us to tackle the problems facing this country, it is vital to elect Labour County Councillors in Devon. They can use their scrutiny powers to hold the Council to account. Should the Tories be re-elected as a majority Labour is the only group which can take them on effectively. For example, the Labour Group took the lead in the successful campaign to stop the Tory administration from ending funding for school crossing patrols – the service provided by the lollipop women and men who do so much to keep children in Devon safe. Should the election result in no party being in overall control the Labour Group will use its power to seek to implement the policies set out in this manifesto.
The Labour Group has the following priorities for the next four years:
- Defending Devon’s health services from privatisation and making sure people in Devon receive good services at hospital and at home
- Working to make sure Devon gets the best possible deal when we leave the EU - we must protect the people of Devon
- Campaigning for the real living wage, opposing regional pay, ending zero hours contracts and resisting further privatisation of Council services
- Improving people’s skills, promoting enterprise and encouraging the creation of sustainable jobs, giving priority to opportunities for young people
- Ensuring services for elderly and vulnerable people are of high quality
- Protecting early years’ provision, opposing the extension or creation of grammar schools, ensuring all Devon children have access to a good school, and campaigning for increased investment in education and fair funding for Devon’s pupils
- Promoting environmentally sustainable policies at all levels
2. Tackling the Economic Challenges
Devon’s economy is facing the twin challenges of Brexit and devolution. It is imperative that the County Council uses its influence to ensure Devon gets the best deal on leaving the European Union. Devon must not get left behind, so the County Council must work with partners to seize any opportunities that will benefit Devon.
We must work with all our local partners (Plymouth, Torbay, Somerset, Exeter City and District Councils) to ensure the government devolves powers, responsibilities and resources to the region. The current Local Enterprise Partnership underspend shows that it is not working effectively. To succeed devolution must significantly improve local accountability.
The government’s economic plans have not worked. Inequalities are growing and social unrest will follow as even more welfare and public spending cuts are planned. For example, the continuing trend of outsourcing public services means job losses, fewer services and an increase in inequalities. These policies cannot tackle Devon’s chronic problems of low wages (Torridge has one of the lowest wage rates in the country) and too much reliance on part-time and seasonal work. The introduction of the real living wage, however, will make a huge difference and reduce reliance on benefits to subsidise low wages.
Devon needs a growth and innovation strategy that supports both private and public sectors. Business needs public services and infrastructure, and people’s wellbeing depends on work and enterprise. Government has a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to economic development, but the critical issues in Exeter, market and coastal towns and villages will be quite different. Labour supports imaginative local leadership that tackles economic problems and reduces inequalities. Labour will encourage investment in business growth and better services by stimulating new types of organisation particularly co-operatives and social enterprises. We value the part played by small businesses in growing Devon’s economy. We will support such enterprises in working with communities in an innovative way to tackle difficult social and environmental issues such as social housing, waste, energy and services for young and older people, and to provide training and jobs for local people of all ages.
We believe taxation should be equitable and support actions against those companies that trade here but do not pay their fair share of taxes. We will:
- Oppose the introduction of regional pay
- Urge the County Council to adopt the real living wage
- Support training and work programmes for young people and those needing to gain new skills, and press for better integration between apprenticeships, training and welfare benefit reform
- Develop public transport solutions that enable people throughout Devon to access education, training and employment
- Support local innovation hubs in universities and elsewhere to help entrepreneurs develop businesses and remain in Devon
- Encourage new start-up businesses, co-operative, community interest and mutual enterprises
- Make sure every area is covered by high-speed broadband
- Recognise the significance of Devon’s cultural industries
- Encourage innovation in sustainable sources of energy, food and digital/creative industries by backing research and training, and by investment in renewables
- Be advocates for the region’s innovative green sector
- Support micro and small business by:
a) Lobbying for a regional investment bank and funds to develop skills, innovation and new companies, co-operatives and social enterprises
b) Providing better access to public contracts for small organisations currently disadvantaged by the government’s preference for large businesses with greater capital resources
c) Requiring the County’s commissioners to test procurement against social value and award contracts to local businesses and social enterprises which deliver social benefit
d) Ensuring that Devon’s Local Enterprise Partnership becomes more open and inclusive of small businesses, co-operatives and social enterprises
3. Fighting for Fairer Funding
Securing funding which recognises the demands of a sparsely populated County with an ageing population must be a priority for the new Council. A ‘make do and mend’ approach is no longer adequate – there is no justification for Devon receiving less than the national average per pupil for education and less than average per person for health services.
Outsourcing (privatisation by another name) has been pursued with enthusiasm by the County Council: education services are now provided by Babcock; property, school meals and cleaning by Norse; Virgin Care currently runs children’s health services. This policy has led to a reduction in the Council’s capacity to run services in-house – a risky strategy that has proved to be expensive.
Private enterprises should not be making a profit from providing services for vulnerable people. Labour is strongly opposed to the policy of handing over services to ‘any willing provider’ as is happening in our National Health Service.
We are committed to:
- Lobbying to ensure Devon gets fairer funding
- Working to ensure Devon makes the best of Brexit opportunities and is compensated for loss of EU grants
- Championing public services - resisting and reversing privatisation
- Developing staff and improving opportunities in-house for work experience and apprentices
- Supporting further devolution of budgets to locally accountable bodies
- Encouraging joint working with city and district councils, and other public bodies, to deliver more efficient working practices
4. Defending Devon’s Health Services
Devon faces the current upheaval in NHS services from a chronically low funding base, receiving per head significantly less than the national average. The County also faces a demographic crisis arising from an ageing population and the alarming gap in life expectancy of 17 years between residents of Budleigh Salterton and Ilfracombe. Against this background Devon's Clinical Commissioning Group is faced with a deficit of £40m and is one of the three English authorities where the Success Regime was brought in to get the finances out of the red. Since then a Sustainable Transformation Plan has been produced with a lack of transparency and ineffective consultation with the public. Community hospitals are threatened with closure or the number of beds being cut, and this has already happened in North Devon. Currently there are plans to reduce accident and emergency services at North Devon Hospital which have aroused considerable alarm amongst Devon communities. We will:
- Endeavour to ensure that all those eligible have access to free medical care and understand what they are entitled to receive, and that the needs of the mentally ill and disabled people are not neglected
- Oppose the closure of community hospitals
- Support the need for integrated and early discharge home from acute hospitals provided it is based upon a comprehensive assessment of personal needs and full funding for sufficient medical, skilled nursing and social care staff to provide appropriate levels of care
- Fight to improve and sustain mental health services
- Be vigilant in ensuring that the damage that could be done to health care in Devon by the upheaval in the NHS and the funding cuts is minimised at least, and prevented if possible
5. Promoting Well Being
Responsibility for promoting the health and well being of Devon people has been a new challenge for the County Council. The cut in funding to Devon’s Public Health budget for 2017 is a more than usually perverse decision of the government in view of the importance of promoting better health for people of all ages. Programmes to reduce obesity, cut smoking, reduce alcohol and drug abuse, improve sexual health, reduce teenage pregnancy and combat domestic violence and abuse should be developed not cut, and should be targeted at those most at risk wherever they live in Devon.
Maintaining Devon’s network of libraries, supporting community facilities, encouraging active life styles and supporting cultural activities are also essential for healthy communities. We will:
- Campaign for prevention programmes to be properly funded
- Seek to improve public health by promoting participation in sport and active lifestyles
- Give priority to reducing obesity amongst children and promoting healthy diet
- Support Devon’s network of libraries and encourage development of community hubs
6. Protecting Vulnerable People and Improving Social Care
These services are under increasing strain and the County Council must fight for better funding, otherwise there will be further reduction in support for vulnerable and disabled people. Labour has warned about the ‘unintended consequences’ of changes to benefits and council tax credit, which, along with the bedroom tax, could leave children at risk, families homeless and the most vulnerable destitute. We believe it is vitally important that the County Council works with local partner councils and other agencies to prevent hardship and make sure the right advice and support is available, particularly for those suffering from mental illness, disability, learning difficulties, and debt problems. We will:
- Support people with personal budgets to ensure they receive good quality and reliable care, and develop co-operative solutions
- Make sure the places in residential homes funded by the Council offer the highest quality of services
- Work with private providers to make improvements and maintain good practice
- Support the development of dementia cafés and dementia friendly communities
- Press for more rigorous checks on domiciliary care
- Recognise the important role of community hospitals
- Encourage projects to combat loneliness and isolation such as choirs and readers’ groups
- Work with other councils to limit the damage done to poor people by benefit changes
- Support Citizens Advice and other agencies offering help to those adversely affected by welfare changes
- Campaign against loan sharks and legal high-interest loans including by encouraging the spread of credit unions
- Improve support for victims of domestic violence and modern-day slavery, including the provision of advice and places of refuge
7. Nurturing Children and Young People
The Labour Group has supported the implementation of the government programme of expanded nursery provision for two and three-year olds. However, it has opposed the Tory County Council’s current policy of imposing a blanket 15% cut on all Devon’s children centres, which do vital work in providing support to all families before and immediately after the birth of children, and in their early years. Sure Start children’s centres were introduced by the Labour government in 1998 and have been a great success in improving childcare, early education, health and family support, with an emphasis on outreach and community development. The 15% cut now being implemented hits hardest those families who most need the support of the children’s centres – the poor (both in and out of work), teenage and single parents, those with inadequate housing, mental health issues, etc. This is particularly worrying since the County Council has committed itself to a policy of early intervention to prevent problems becoming more deeply rooted and costly to solve in the longer term.
Schools and FE colleges
The policies of the previous Tory/LibDem coalition government and of the current Tory government have done great damage to our schools and further education colleges. The introduction of academies and free schools, which are not obliged to follow the national curriculum or employ trained teachers, has proved an expensive distraction from the task of raising the quality of teaching and pastoral care. Vocational education remains the poor relation and further education colleges have suffered significant cuts to their funding. Too many of the most vulnerable children, such as those with special educational needs and those entitled to free school meals, do not do as well as they should in our schools. Schools are becoming even more like exam factories, with an overly academic and an increasingly narrowly focused curriculum which fails to motivate children to learn and develop their intellectual, creative and practical potential. The result is increasing stress for both teachers and pupils, with damaging consequences in terms of their mental health. Recent increases in school exclusions and in teachers leaving their profession demonstrate the harm that is being done.
Labour advocates an education system that aims to provide a good local school for every child, rather than a pseudo-market place for education where privilege is rewarded. This is particularly relevant to the government’s proposal to re-introduce grammar schools. Every comprehensive that converts to a grammar school or newly created grammar has an effect on its neighbouring comprehensives; they become secondary moderns without those schools and communities having any say in this. Research shows that local authorities with grammar schools do no better in terms of pupil attainment than those without, and that grammars disproportionately provide for children from the most affluent homes.
Recently there has been news of some major changes to school funding which will have a significant impact on schools in Devon. The first of these was the prediction in late December by the National Audit Office that overall schools in England would suffer a real-terms cut of 8% by 2020. At the same time the government set out its plans for a new National Funding Formula to provide money to schools in a fairer way, intended to end what has been described as a postcode lottery. Under the present system on an annual basis Devon gets about £290 per pupil less than the national average. Unfortunately, the new scheme when fully operational would increase the amount of money coming to Devon by just 0.38%, with many schools facing further cuts. To make matters worse, Devon County Council decided on 11th January to transfer £2.22 million from the Schools Block to the High Needs Block, the budget for children with special education needs and disabilities of the most demanding kind, to meet a significant deficit in the latter. This will result in a reduction of £33 per pupil in the core funding that schools receive. This will undoubtedly make it even more difficult for schools in Devon to cope. Labour opposes cuts to education funding and instead advocates increased investment in a National Education Service and a new National Funding Formula that would bring per pupil funding in Devon up to at least the national average.
The Tories who run Devon have closed all the Council-run youth centres except one for each district/city council, which is then supposed to act as the Youth Hub for the whole area. Overall, despite communities successfully taking over centres in some places, youth service provision has been much depleted with a great reduction in the number of professional youth workers. There is little evidence that the switch from so-called ‘universal’ provision to targeted ‘outreach’ has been effective in reaching those young people who are most vulnerable or in combatting anti-social behaviour.
In contrast, the Labour Group advocates the extension of youth provision to areas where there is an evident need not previously met. Now that Youth Policy for Exeter has been launched, we must prepare similar strategies for the rest of Devon in order to ensure that no young person is left out. Under Labour, Devon County Council would do more to improve youth provision.
The Tory led Devon County Council got a shock in 2013 when Ofsted decided after an inspection that its child services were ‘inadequate’. Since then the situation has improved, but the most recent Ofsted rating is still only ‘requires improvement’. Caring for children is one of many services competing for funding under the Council’s budget. The Tory government clearly thought it had found a way round this in the Children & Social Work Bill it introduced in late 2016, which aimed to permit individual local authorities to be excused from legal obligations to vulnerable children and care leavers. Labour strongly opposes such measures and will give a very high priority to meeting the needs of vulnerable children.
A vote for Labour at this election is a vote:
- to press for a revised National Funding Formula that brings funding for Devon pupils up to at least the national average and for adequate funding for children and young people with special needs
- against cuts to the funding of children’s centres and for increasing our investment in them in the future
- to oppose the reintroduction of the 11 plus and to give all children the highest possible standard of education
- for the extension of youth provision to areas where there is an evident need not previously met
- to lobby for better funding for Further Education and more worthwhile apprenticeships
- to give high priority to safeguarding vulnerable children including the prevention of child sexual exploitation
8. Supporting Rural Communities
A very large part of Devon is rural and the needs of residents of these areas are in many respects different from those in the city of Exeter and even the market towns. We are committed to securing sustainable rural communities.
Rural isolation is a very real problem, which has been exacerbated over recent years by the closure or limitation of facilities such as post offices, banks, GP surgeries, pubs and village shops. More recently, there has been the removal of beds in small community hospitals, with even more threatened, leaving many elderly people having to make long cross-country journeys to visit relatives, if indeed they are capable of making the journey at all. The reduction in bus services has hit rural areas particularly hard, with many villages having no service after mid-evening; those without cars are thus unable to go to large towns for evening entertainment. Issues such as this should be considered in all decisions taken by the Council.
The decision to leave the EU could also have a detrimental effect on farming and the countryside and could lead to the demise of small farms. It is therefore essential that the County Council retains its own farms to allow young people opportunities to take up farming. We want to see sustainable rural communities that are not dominated by large scale agri-businesses. We will:
- Always take into account the impact on rural communities of all policies being considered.
- Support local communities to retain local shops, banks, post offices, pubs and GP surgeries.
- Oppose the closure of community hospitals and the removal of in-patient facilities and support the development of community health and well-being hubs
- Create policies to support farming and encourage more young people to work in agriculture so reducing the average age of Devon farmers, now over 60
- Encourage rural schools to work together to sustain provision
- Make the countryside more easily and safely accessible to pedestrians and cyclists by developing and maintaining foot and cycle ways
- Support community transport schemes
- Oppose selling off the County farm estate
- Lobby government to recognise the impact of rural sparsity when allocating funding
9. Caring for our Environment
Labour will campaign for environmentally sustainable policies at all levels and to promote biodiversity within Devon’s natural environment. We will support sustainable energy and oppose fracking in any part of the County. We welcome Devon’s policy to encourage bees and other pollinators, and reduce the use of pesticides. We will:
- Propose introducing carbon budgeting at the Council with the environmental impact of every decision being recognized and recorded
- Support renewable energy initiatives using wind, biomass and water, and encourage community ownership as well as community and co-operative energy procurement to reduce household costs
- Campaign for flooding mitigation strategies to protect vulnerable homes and businesses, and for adequate investment in flood defences
- Support good practice that encourages pollinators
- Identify areas of land where community gardens and fruit growing areas can be established, and support the Transition movement in Devon
- Work towards returning residential streets to safe environments where families can live, work and play
- Develop policies to reduce litter and fly-tipping, establish local resources-recovery parks which re-use and repair waste material and create green jobs, and provide for more items to be recycled at recycling centres
- Continue to lobby government for a tax on packaging and encourage retail outlets to accept the return of non-recyclable materials
- Use waste to create energy and to make re-usable products that benefit our community
Implementing a comprehensive food policy should be one of Devon’s priorities. We will encourage people wherever possible to produce their own food. We will encourage a reduction in the use of pesticides in gardens, allotments and farms. We will tackle ‘holiday hunger’ which particularly affects children on free school meals during the school holidays, making sure no child goes hungry at that time. We will support initiatives to stop food waste, working with suppliers, retailers and charities to cut waste, and rescue usable food to redistribute to people in need.
10. Improving Transport in Devon
Our transport policy is based on developing the existing public transport network, and improving walking and cycling routes. We will be proactive in developing ‘green’ travel plans for public and private employers across Devon including increased use of public transport, greater car sharing, and encouraging the development of work hubs and home working. Attempting to ensure that there is suitable public transport available throughout Devon will be a major priority for Labour. We also support the existing bus pass scheme which reduces car usage and combats isolation amongst older people. We believe a transfer to public ownership would be the best way to achieve our vision of a fully integrated accessible public transport network. We will:
- Work with Network Rail to improve our stations by providing cycle racks, seating and waiting rooms, and better integrated timetables
- Put pressure on transport providers to fully cater for the needs of people with disabilities
- Support the Devon Metro and work with operators to develop a Devon oyster card
- Ensure better passenger information with displays at bus stops and announcements on all public transport vehicles
- Lobby government, Network Rail and train companies for increased capacity on trains serving Devon and increased reliability including dealing with disruption caused by flooding
- Campaign strongly for conversion of the Exeter-Waterloo rail route from single to double line throughout and for the building of an alternative route from Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton
- Demand increased financial support for essential but ‘uneconomic’ bus and train routes
- Seek to reduce traffic speeds to improve safety, lower emissions and noise
- Develop residents-only parking for streets where there is excessive commuter or visitor parking
- Seek funding to deal with the backlog of road and footway maintenance to improve safety for all road users
- Work with organisations such as Exeter Futures to improve transport planning throughout Devon
- Endeavour to provide everyone with access to public transport to reach places of education, training and employment as well as hospitals and health centres
- Make it a priority to secure effective park-and-ride and park-and-change schemes around Exeter
Cycling and Walking
Our aim is to reduce congestion and pollution by developing and improving walking and cycling routes. The Tory-led Council has produced much rhetoric about sustainable transport, but in practice too little is being done to facilitate alternatives to the use of private motor vehicles. Congestion has reached a new high, air pollution is already at a worrying level, and our roads are becoming less safe. More needs to be done to make public transport an attractive option, and to promote walking and cycling with consideration being given to the introduction of cycle-only lanes for key routes as sharing with pedestrians or motor vehicles is often unsafe for those involved. We will:
- Halt the degradation of the existing cycle network by adopting modern design guidance and prioritise cycle commuter routes that are direct, safe and with good surfaces
- Improve cyclist and pedestrian safety through school programmes and promoting best practice for motorists and cyclists
- Regularly audit the delivery of the already agreed strategies prioritising pedestrians, cyclists and public transport, and assess all new proposals against these strategies
- Categorise streets with people in mind (not just motor vehicles) so that any new development is planned accordingly
- Commit to bold leadership for delivering a vision of a better County, with cyclists and pedestrians at its heart
- Create nominated Councillor and Officer ‘leads’ to champion walking and cycling
11. Keeping Devon Safe
At the May 2016 elections for Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), the Labour Party candidate won in Exeter and Plymouth but was narrowly defeated elsewhere, and a Tory Commissioner was elected for Devon and Cornwall. Labour’s opposition to the devastating cuts to policing since 2010 highlighted increasing public recognition that without a concerted effort to stop its decline, policing and community safety would soon be going the way of other vital public services. Left unchecked, this would further damage and marginalise the diverse communities across Devon.
Labour will work to ensure that the PCC is properly held to account regarding the priorities for policing and community safety. This will be achieved by focusing on three strategic goals to address policing needs for the future; Proper Funding; Effective Local Policing; and Connecting with Communities. The aim is to reinforce mutual trust and confidence between the police, the public and the many other services and voluntary organisations that deliver public safety. We will:
- Put pressure on the Tory PCC to hold the government to its promised review of police funding to ensure that Devon and Cornwall are no longer disadvantaged (the extra funding, potentially as much as £15m pa, could provide around 300 extra police officers for Devon and Cornwall)
- Seek to restore effective local policing by demanding a commitment that the police serve all communities equally, with an increased visible presence and with the policing skills needed for today’s complex challenges like online fraud and domestic violence
- Campaign for the retention of Police Community Support Officers as an important part of the police force that provides a vital link between the police and the community
- Support the development of a ‘strategic partnership’ with Dorset to manage key police services effectively, but demand that the public benefits once more from strong community-based policing at the front-line
- Strongly oppose any attempt to increase privatisation of policing and justice services
- Work to bring more direct accountability through improved policy input from community representatives, ultimately holding the Chief Constable to account for operational policing
- Prioritise the work of the Community Safety Partnerships to identify key public safety priorities and oppose any move to build further autonomy in the PCC role
- Endeavour to ensure that truly effective on-line and telephone contact of the police becomes a reality, and insist that key stations are maintained to enable direct public access to police officers
- Contribute to improving support for the victims of crime
- Demand that the police become more effective in dealing with both domestic and sexual violence and abuse
Fire and RescueService
The devastating fire at the Clarence Hotel at the heart of Exeter’s historic centre shows how essential is an effective Fire and Rescue Service. The reduction in funding for the service since 2012/13 has been £11.2m – Devon and Somerset Fire Authority has the seventh worst funding settlement in the country. We will work to increase funding and to ensure that the people of Devon are properly protected in case of fire or other emergencies, including flooding and the threat of terrorist attack, with a speedy response to calls from the public.
Alongside the vital role of firefighting, it is essential that the service works to prevent fires through its programme of fire education within schools and the community. We support the inclusion of sprinklers and fire alarms in all new homes and public buildings. We are also in favour of the extension of the co-responder scheme so that fire fighters can respond to medical emergencies - this requires collaboration with other emergency services and adequate funding as well as continued support for training for all personnel.
Devon County Labour Group:
Leader: Cllr Richard Westlake (Newtown & Polsloe)
Deputy Leader: Cllr Jill Owen (St Davids & St James)
Cllr Olwen Foggin (Heavitree & Whipton Barton)
Cllr Rob Hannaford (Exwick & St Thomas)
Cllr Andy Hannan (Priory & St Leonard’s)
Cllr Roy Hill (Alphington & Cowick)
Cllr Emma Morse (Pinhoe & Mincinglake)
For more information contact: Devon Labour Campaign Forum:
Chair Cllr David Brenton
Media Officer Chris Cuddihee, tel: 07708 930739
Secretary Saxon Spence, email: smspence@phonecoop-coop
11 Cleveland Court, Grosvenor Place, Exeter EX1 2JP.
Promoted by Megan Williams on behalf of the Devon Local Campaign Forum both at 26b Clifton Hill, Exeter, EX1 2DJ