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Devon County councillors blast central government over funding cuts, as new budget is scrutinised

Thursday, 29 January 2015 5 Comments by Claire

On the day that the Prime Minister visited East Devon to check on the progress of the Skypark and Science Park, Conservative Devon County Councillors were very critical of their party colleagues at Westminster.

It was the subject of hopelessly crippled council finances debated at this morning’s Joint Budget Scrutiny committee that was the subject of ire.

The council has now prepared its budget for 2015/16 and it isn’t pretty. 

£50 million pounds must be slashed in the next financial year alone, which comes on top of tens of millions of pounds of cuts in the last few years.

Just about all funding lines have been pared to the bone and beyond.

Bus services (including at Ottery - blog coming soon) are set to be dramatically reduced, as are lollipop patrols.

Highways budgets are eviscerated with key gritting routes lost and eight million square metres of grass verge no longer being cut - leaving just one million square metres on junctions that will be mowed.

Saddest of all, there are huge cuts to children’s services, including child protection, child health and fostering, as well as residential care, learning disability services, education and school transport.

Risky?  You bet. The slashed budgets are riddled with risk, according to the assessments in today’s budget papers.

Many councillors, most notably, the leader, Cllr John Hart, were very critical of the government.

The deputy leader, Cllr John Clatworthy accused Eric Pickles of providing “spin” to the media on council finances.

Adding that Mr Pickles keeps “banging on” about councils using reserves.

Devon County Council has reserves of just £14m, which would disappear in a few days, Cllr Clatworthy said.

Someone suggested that Mr Cameron might like to drop in and listen to our budget before he heads back to London.

There was the usual argy bargy about whose fault it was that the government is wrecking council budgets. Labour councillors blame the Tories and the Tory councillors blame the former Labour government.

The local NHS’s appalling financial troubles are putting more pressure on social care budgets, the reports said.  And there are 84,000 carers in Devon – one of the highest proportions of carers in England.

There is a risk of not enough labour to provide personal care and new legal requirements under the Care Act put councils under further pressure, with more funding likely to be needed to service the Act.

I asked four questions including what that shortfall was. Answer, we are ok for this year but it may be a problem next year.

I asked what the take up was for Science Park and SkyPark.  Three businesses have taken up the offer of being based at SkyPark, but officers were more cagey about Science Park, saying that they would update me later.

Given that most verges from April onwards won’t be cut I proposed that communities be encouraged to take up sowing wildflowers on verges instead, as per my pilot.  The pilot wasn’t perfect I said, but with a bit of tweaking it could work really well and have huge potential to improve biodiversity across Devon. 

Devon County Council’s budget will be discussed at cabinet on Friday 13 February at 10.30am and then debated at full council on Thursday 19 February, at 2.15pm.  Members of the public are permitted to speak if they register in advance – see rules here -

Councillors resolved to send a raft of critical and hard-hitting messages to central government on the impact of the cuts.

For the WEBCAST of this morning’s meeting, see HERE -


1. At 07:59 am on 30th Jan Sandra Semple wrote:

Contrast with East Devon District Council where most of our cuts will finance a vanity project - a multi-million pound new HQ and where David Cameron and Pickles are practically considered saints - along with whoever is the housing minister at the time.

2. At 05:39 pm on 30th Jan Keith Tizzard wrote:

When you are a member of parliament how should government fund councils? 

What policy would you advocate or support?

3. At 07:58 pm on 30th Jan Claire Wright wrote:

Dear Keith
You raise a very good point.
For some years central government has been passing additional burdens on to local government, but at the same time has massively reduced funding to local government.
the other issue is that some councils receive far less mnoey per head of population than others.

Children in Devon schools get £300 per head per year less in Government funding than children elsewhere. The pattern applies all over the spectrum. We get far less investment in transport infrastructure.

The existing MP for Tiverton and Honiton argues against this unfairness - and then votes for the unfair Government financial settlement for local councils. The existing MP for East Devon doesn`t even make the argument, before voting for the unfair Government financial settlement for local councils.

I would certainly argue strongly for us to get our fair share - and vote accordingly!
The other thing that I have a problem with is the concept that someone in Whitehall - 200 miles away - knows better what Devon`s needs are than local councillors and local council officers do.

I also fundamentally object to the way the govt have spent the money. Police and Crime Commissioners have cost hundreds of millions, the reoorganisation of the NHS and dreadfuul Social Care Act has cost around £3 billion, HS2 will cost around £50 billion, tax breaks for big business has cost a fortune… and so it goes on.

4. At 09:33 pm on 30th Jan Joan Kelly wrote:

Devon County Council have been wasting money for years and it’s about time they were brought to book. Unfortunately it’s the electorate who will suffer these cuts especially in rural areas.
When you have an ex member of the Monster Raving Loony Party, who is now a defector, in charge of Highways and Transport what do people expect with regard to cutting bus services and less maintenance of the highways.
No wonder people across the country are calling Devon a Banana Republic.

5. At 05:55 pm on 31th Jan Sandra Semple wrote:

To be fair, it isn’t the only reason, or the most pressing reason, why the county and districts have poor reputations.  And at least John Hart went out and consulted people on cuts and appears to be upset that he has to do them.  Here in East Devon we cut to fund the Leader’s vanity project and pass on costs to town and parish councils, then boast that council tax has not gone up.  Sure, but town and parish precepts have gone up and we all pay more for less, just putting it in different pots.

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