A column by Ryan Hall, as seen in MDA and PRSD
Lets throw our support behind our indie highstreets after covid.
Businesses of all shapes and sizes will be feeling the effects of the coronavirus, with some forced to close at a moment’s notice, whilst others have needed to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. For many small business’s times are tough and are about to get tougher, two in five small businesses face closure because of coronavirus. Meanwhile big business such as airlines are demanding bailouts from the government so they can pay their staff.
With media headlines of more large British retailers entering administration. Small and medium size businesses are also facing financial hardship, despite promises from the government of support at this time, many are already finding it hard to make ends meet. There are many different initiatives out there to support local businesses and to protect jobs. Employee retention schemes, grants and loans are all available. Weeks before the government announced plans to pay 80% of wages for any workers “furloughed” due to the virus, some business started to make redundancies. Many business owners are confused about whether they qualify for such schemes, whether they can afford to tell workers to stay at home. For some the money would come too late to save jobs and struggling businesses.
Supermarkets have seen sales surge in the last couple of months as people stockpiled groceries. Most of the big supermarkets needed to put restrictions on buying large quantities of food, to ensure there was enough to fulfil the needs of the population. We should all be use by now to queuing to enter shops and keeping that all important 2 metres from others.
Our highstreets that are already struggling, will be under more pressure than ever, especially small independent traders. Nearly all have heeded the governments advice and are closed for the foreseeable future. Local businesses owners have described the current situation as “financially crippling” not just for their business, but some are struggling to feed their families whilst still having to pay associated overheads. Whilst some can continue to use online means to keep businesses going, the knock-on-effect on supply chains is making this difficult for some to continue. Others have been able to adapt by offering deliveries, however in certain sectors there is no choice but to ride out this crisis and hope to bounce back.
Nobody knows how long this lockdown might last, in Newton Abbot the market hall reopened after 2 weeks, so a small selection of businesses, categorised as essential could continue trading. This was met with mixed response from the public, concerned about safety.
Once this lockdown is over, we should all go out and celebrate our wonderfully vibrant and independent traders, they will need more than ever, the support of local people to enable them to bounce back. Supporting local businesses which are still open and lending a hand to those who have remained closed, will ensure local jobs and the economy are able to recover from this crisis.
Appreciate those Essential Workers
Every Thursday the UK erupts into applause and celebration for the NHS and other keyworkers, that we all take for granted. This includes all emergency services, health care workers, care workers, supermarket cashiers and shelf stackers, lorry and delivery drivers, just to name a few. These extraordinary people are working day in and day out, to ensure all stay healthy and the country keeps running.
Many of these workers have been described previously as “unskilled”, it has taken a major national crisis for these people to be fully appreciated for what they do. During this pandemic they are knowingly putting their lives on the live to serve and protect us. As we go out for our weekly shopping it is great to see the lengths supermarket chains are going to, to keep their employees and us, as shoppers safe. There is however something of a scandal going on across the UK, many of these keyworkers are unable to get access to crucial personal protective equipment (PPE). NHS and care workers need to be the priority for this PPE, which is being donated from businesses and even schools due lack of supply in some areas. There are now calls for a manufacturing army to be assembled to make vital equipment to keep us all safe. This should along with a mass testing programme be the No. 1 priority.
Whilst some are given “key-worker” status by the Government many other still have to go to work to earn a living. With the current guidelines being “only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home)”, some people still need to go to work if their employers remain open. Despite the support from the government to pay 80% of wages during the pandemic, this only applies if your furloughed, which in most circumstances applies to those who are not working, in sectors forced to close such as pubs and non-essential businesses. If your place of work is not closed and you are forced to take time off to self-isolate, you’d only be eligible for £95 a week statutory sick pay. Most of us, including MP’s admit this is not enough to live on. Those on low incomes are forced to go to work to make ends meet, potentially making the spread of Coronavirus worse.
Whilst the job retention scheme is good for many workers other are being put at unnecessary risk by being forced to attend work. These workplaces need to be urgently closed; public health needs to be put before profit. Keyworkers who are vital for keeping us safe need to be given the equipment to keep themselves safe at work. Once this crisis is over, we must not forget those who everyday keep us healthy, fed, moving and safe, they do this 365 days a year. Lets all take time to say thank-you, not just for the work these keyworkers do during this crisis, but for the work they do all year round.
Communities Taking Voluntary Action for Covid
The streets are empty, our shops and pubs are closed, events of all kinds cancelled, the country has fallen silent. The freedoms we all take for granted have been temporarily taken away, no longer can we go out to meet friends, or go to the supermarket as many times as we like. It has taken an almost total lock-down to make sure people do not go out unnecessarily, in an attempt to limit the threat of Coronavirus. For some this might seem like a long summer holiday, some of us now need to work from home, or maybe we are getting to grips with those DIY jobs that we have been putting off. But for some this is an anxious time, especially for those with certain health conditions told to isolate themselves from the outside world for 12 weeks, this shielding, it is hoped will save lives.
Some of these vulnerable groups need a helping hand now more than ever. Luckily an army of community voluntary organisations are on hand to make sure these people get the basics. From foodbanks to organisations who deal with the most vulnerable, all kinds of people are coming together to ensure nobody is forgotten about at this time of national crisis. This voluntary response is providing vital support to those not eligible for support from local authorities. Local councils and social care services very often refer people who ask for help to voluntary organisations.
It is not just large voluntary organisations that have swung into action to help the vulnerable, up and down the country communities have been taking action to look after one another. Thousands of Mutual Aid groups have sprung up across the country in an immediate response to the Covid-19 pandemic. These groups are bringing together volunteers in communities across the UK. Providing resources and connecting people at this time of need. We must all recognise that injustice doesn’t affect everyone equally and whilst we’re all at risk of Covid-19, there are some people who are more vulnerable and need greater support from the community.
People who are normally very independent are calling out for help to get the basics such as, food and medicine. Volunteers are on hand to answer these calls and offer a helping hand, or just a voice at the end of the phone to tackle loneliness. We can all do our bit to tackle this by dropping a letter to elderly neighbours giving them a number to call, to make them know they are not alone, small acts of kindness make the biggest difference.
This crisis has unfortunately revealed some gaps in the provision of services to those who need it, with local authorities unable to provide for all those who need it, the slack is being taken up by charitable and voluntary organisations. However, something else more inspiring as also been revealed, the strength of resilience in our communities. Communities can come together, organise and overcome any crisis.
Throw Away Society – Action Required
We live in a throwaway society and although lots has been done to reduce single use items, there are many other things we all use on a daily basis that should last longer. Mobile phones for example, have a life span of just a couple of years, then we upgrade to the newest model. However, this does not apply to just mobile phones, large appliances found in every UK household will have a limited lifespan, sometimes by design. We all know the pain of a washing machine breaking down and a repair being more expensive than just buying a new one.
Many electrical goods are made to be unrepairable as part of the manufacturers business model, they of course want us all to buy new appliance rather than repair them. But this could be about to change, the EU is planning to bring about new legislation which means manufacturers will have to ensure certain parts of large appliances are repairable. From 2021, the regulations require manufacturers to design longer-lasting machines and to make spare parts readily available for up to ten years in a bid to reduce waste. It is unclear whether or not the UK will take on this directive now we have left the EU. However, this would rule would need to be adhered to by UK manufacturers who export to EU countries. This legislation comes after years of pressure from consumers angry about the short lifespan of many products, some manufacturers have spent vast sums opposing these changes.
The EU rules apply to lighting, washing machines, dishwashers and fridges. But environmental campaigners say this does not go far enough. Consumers will still need to find professionals to complete repairs and it is not certain which parts would be replaceable. Those wanting this to go further are calling for it to include, a wider range of goods. Many consumers currently blame manufacturers of built in obsolescence, which forces us to upgrade when not always necessary. There are now manufacturers who are developing goods made with repairability in mind, ensuring all components can be replaced.
Gone are the days of make do and mend, but a revolution in fixing is springing up across the country. Repair cafes are starting, places where you can take faulty electrical goods and have someone repair them or teach you how to repair. This is a great way to ensure electrical good which can be repaired do not end up in landfill. Volunteers will attempt to repair anything from kettles and toasters to, laptops and mobile phones. Repair cafes being held across Devon, details can be found at recycledevon.org.
With people more aware than ever of the impact our lives can have on the environment, we are all doing little things to save the planet, but producers should shoulder more of the responsibility for reducing unnecessary waste. The UK is likely to comply and hopefully builds on and strengthens some of the ideas.
Community Healthcare Critical to Covid Response
We are in the grip of what some describe as the worst public health crisis in a generation. Many health professionals are already warning that our health system will not be able to cope with the strain and we are a long way from seeing peak Coronavirus. Many would expect that the NHS is prepared for such an outbreak, but the truth is the NHS is struggling to keep up with demand on a regular basis, despite the hard work and dedication of those who work in it. GP’s are already cancelling non-essential appointments and hospitals are telling people to stay away. The advice if you have a high temperature, or new continuous cough, call 111.
The deficiency of beds and staff in the NHS will cause major problems if the Coronavirus spreads as expected. To try and deal with this crisis, NHS nurses have been told they could be redeployed at any time to deal with changes in circumstances, retired doctors and nurses are being asked to come back to work temporarily and the government is also trying to accelerate the training of final year nursing students. NHS and other suitable buildings are being designated as isolation units to care for patients to ensure enough beds are available for those that need them
In Teignmouth plans for a consultation on the closure of the hospital and changes to GP practices have been put on hold. The plans which include closing the current hospital and the creation of a new Health and Wellbeing Centre. Which would be the new central home for GP surgeries in Teignmouth and would also include a location for the health and wellbeing team (which co-ordinates integrated care), local charity Volunteering in Health (which helps deliver integrated care) and pharmacy. However, a lot of the services Teignmouth hospital offered such as the Physiotherapy department will close, for these services patients would need to travel to either Torbay, Newton Abbot or Dawlish.
If the Covid-19 pandemic does as many expect get worse and patterns from places such as China are replicated in the UK, 1 in 5 Coronavirus patients could need access to intensive care units in order to recover. Concerns are being raised that the country is woefully ill-equipped to manage the crisis, the UK has just 6.6 ICU beds per 100,000 people, compared with Germany’s 29.2, Italy’s 12.5 and France’s 9.7. Local beds are hard to come by, two residents of Devon are currently having to be treated 400 miles away in Newcastle due to lack of local facilities.
This pressure on our health service makes it all the more important we all take steps to try and slow down the spread of the virus. The Government has already announced plans which would mean certain at-risk groups, would be advised to self-isolate for an extended period of time. Hopefully this pandemic will make decision makers think again about closing a community hospital which is needed by so many and not just at times of crisis.
Basic income? A solution to the fast changing world of work.
The future of work is working less. Up to 50% of the jobs we have today are at risk due to automation, in the future we might need to think of ways to support a growing population. Some areas of employment will be taken completely by robots, whilst partial automation will also reduce the amount of human input. Many will say we shouldn’t worry about robots taking our jobs as humans will always be needed. This is true for some sectors, but we should be concerned about more and more people being put out of work, or not needing to work as much. Our society and economy are not in a position to deal with the possibility of people working less.
Whilst working less would obviously have huge benefits in terms of health and wellbeing. But for so many working less would mean less money, which is essential to ensuring an adequate standard of living. With some even calling for our working weeks to be reduced to four days, those calling for this want the working week to be reduced, but with no loss of pay. The welfare system has for a long time supported those out of work, or those who cannot work, for a variety of different reasons. We are all aware the flaws with the current system, which may in the future, need to be extended to support more people.
If automation was to lead to half of jobs being lost, we need to look at ensuring we have a universal safety net to support everyone effected. One option which is getting more attention is universal basic income, which would be a set amount of money paid to every individual. The intention behind universal basic income is to provide enough to cover the basic cost of living and provide financial security, for all. This is by no means a new idea, in 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. said a guaranteed income would abolish poverty. Others such as Facebook founder; Mark Zuckerberg and technology entrepreneur; Elon Musk, have supported the idea.
How a universal basic income could work is complex, it could be a set about given to all citizens or provide a top up for those on a low income. Critics of the idea claim giving people free money would mean less work and that the idea is unaffordable, both these critiques have been proven wrong. Trials have taken place in countries across the world, including in Scotland, where the trials have taken place people have not given up working, and the cost of administering was found to be much less than a means tested system.
There is no doubt that technology will start to replace jobs done by humans, it is just a matter of when and to what extent this changes the way we work. In order to halt growing inequality in society we will need to look at providing a more universal safety net to ensure those effected are not held back.
Automation is going to change the world of work, not a matter of if, but when?
The world of work is changing, every week we see stories of business which have been established for years closing their doors for good. Generations of families worked in the same industry; communities which have relied on one single employer for decades. The reason these businesses are disappearing is complex. But something which is certain, is that the main areas of employment we see today will continue to change. Since the end of the industrial revolution the UK has moved more towards the service sector, our industrial heritage is disappearing.
Much of the industry we have lost across the UK, has been because other countries, where demand for certain products is higher, can produce what we once made a lot cheaper, such as steel for example. However, manufacturing industries are now changing across the world, as our demand for cheaper products is ever increasing, technological advances are changing the way things are produced. The future for many industries will be automation, it has for some already taken over. The automotive industry has already seen a boom in robotic automation making production cheaper and more efficient. Although automotive is still a big employer in the UK, it is slowly starting to vanish, and the amount of people employed in this sector is only going in one direction.
Jobs being taken by automation is not something new, supermarkets have already embraced this change. The amount of supermarket checkout jobs has reduced by more than a quarter since 2011, and self-service checkouts are becoming a permanent fixture across retail. This culture of self service is quickly spreading to more sectors, with many areas of the hospitality industry taking on self-service and reducing face to face contact.
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimate around 1.5million workers are at high risk of losing their jobs due to automation, with part-time workers and women most at risk. Other jobs where automation has taken its toll include laundry workers, farm workers and tyre fitters, among which numbers have dropped by 15% or more, as machines have replaced labour. The trend of labour decline in these sectors and others, is likely to continue as technology progresses.
Unemployment is reported at an all-time low, but some sectors in the SW are worrying about the Governments new immigration rules. In the SW many farmers are worried about the lack of access to seasonal labour to harvest crops, but many are already looking to automation which could replace the need for this labour all together. No job will be immune from the rise of automation
If vast amounts of jobs are to be taken by robots, we need to look at ways to adapt, whether that be in the jobs we do or, how we support societies who work less, or not at all. Could the rise of automation lead to a decline in job security and standards of living? Answers to how we deal with this need to be found, before automation fully takes hold.
Time for a rethink on buses
For those without access to a personal vehicle, public transport is the only option to ensure they can get around, whether that be for our work or social lives. Buses are an essential part of life for some in our communities. Rural areas are especially reliant on having a fully functioning bus network to ensure people can access vital amenities, which are not always on their doorstep.
In recent years, bus services to rural communities have fallen significantly. This has had a damaging effect on people, communities, businesses and opportunities in rural areas. Private bus companies, in the pursuit of profit will only continue to run services which are considered financially viable, those routes which are not rely on heavily subsidised by local authorities. Some of the most vital routes in rural areas rely on subsidies and as this funding disappears, so do the buses.
The number of people using buses has dropped in the last decade, with the biggest drops being seen in non-metropolitan areas. This has probably been down to worsening services, but also the use of private vehicles. Poor bus services have led to many travelling by car as this is seen as quicker and more convenient. With the boom in online retailing and banking, the biggest reason stated for bus travel, shopping, is gradually now reducing.
Buses are disproportionally used by those on lower incomes, those who sometimes cannot afford cars. Bus links are vital for employment, education and social purposes. Without reliable bus networks linking communities with other transport and places of employment, many of these people find themselves isolated. With bus companies running services solely to make a profit some of these rural links are being the first to be cut, or if not cut becoming less reliable, for example the bus serving Buckland in Newton Abbot, was changed so the route covered a larger area. However, this had a negative impact on the overall quality of the service. A local campaign was started by users of this bus, which was successful, in forcing Stagecoach to reinstate the previously reliable and well used service.
The UK’s fragmented public transport system is falling apart, despite promises of investment from the Government many would argue the current network is only getting worse. We should take inspiration from transport networks like Switzerland’s tiered bus network, named “takfahrplan” translates to clock-facing schedule. Level 1 is hourly, for settlements above 300 people. Level 2 is half hourly and is on corridors where flows from multiple settlements combine. Level 3 is every 15 minutes, or more frequent where there is demand, and is for large dense settlements. Timetables are integrated so buses will arrive and depart stations within a few minutes of other transport.
Buses should be seen as public services, run for the benefit of all. It’s essential, to provide the excellent public transport network that is needed in the context of the climate emergency, and also to support a more inclusive society.
Mental Health – A Network at Breaking Point
All areas of the UK’s safety net of social services have seen unprecedented levels of demand, for essential services and support. But is this demand due to increasing numbers of people needing those services, or other reasons?
Children’s services have seen 50% funding reductions since 2010, placing frontline care services provided by local authorities under huge amounts of pressure. But it is not just the cuts to these frontline services which have impacted the most vulnerable, add to this, cuts to public services and social security. This recipe for disaster has led to the UK having half a million more children living in poverty, than we saw a decade ago. As with adult social care the increasing involvement of the private sector has brought its own problems, low pay and a lack of workforce training in the sector, along with lack of communication between different service providers are just some of the issues that have been compromising the quality of local care for decades.
Some of the most vulnerable children in the UK – those abandoned by their parents, those with severe mental and physical health problems and those vulnerable to acute violence are being let down by a system which is supposed to help. An increasing number of children are falling through the gaps which have been left behind, all levels of support from schools and youth centres, through to mental health services and the NHS, need to be working together to ensure this does not happen to anyone.
Children’s mental health services is another area which has been hitting the headlines across the nation recently, with some very worrying statistics. The Office for National Statistics has reported teenage suicide has doubled in the last eight years. Hospitalisations due to self-harm have also risen by 68% since 2015, these sharp rises are a major cause for concern that the system is failing. Part of the reason for this, is children in Devon having some of the longest wait times for mental health treatment, sometimes several months. These wait times for treatment are putting extra and unnecessary pressure on other area such as, A&E, schools and the police. Only those that attempt to take their lives or reach a critical level are treated with urgency, for some this is too late. If you can afford it, private care is an option, though for most this is out of reach.
Young people should have the support they need for their mental health to prevent them from reaching crisis point and no child should be faced with long waits treatment. Treatment that if treated as urgent would save lives. Significant investment in mental health provision for all is needed. Mental health needs to be treated as seriously as physical health. The whole system needs an integrated approach to ensure all services collaborate to ensure intervention is sooner rather than later. Giving a boost to these services will not only vastly improve young lives but build happier and healthier communities.
Air pollution is on the up! Building more roads is not the answer to this problem.
The government has announced plans to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2035, an ambitious target and 5 years earlier than planned. This is in response to ensuring the UK emits virtually zero carbon emissions by 2050. Aside from the obvious environmental benefits, the quality of the air we breathe is in some areas, dangerous for our health. The annual cost to society of the impacts of air pollution is estimated to be £16 billion.
Emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), which come mainly from vehicle exhausts, regularly exceed safe levels in many cities. Diesel vehicles produce the overwhelming majority of roadside NOx. Removing petrol and diesel vehicles from the roads should help bring air quality within the guidelines set out by the World Health Organization (WHO) and also assist the wider objective to reach zero emissions and make our communities a healthier place to breathe.
Whilst you might think air pollution is only a problem in cities, Teignbridge also has it problems with air quality. In 2005 Teignbridge introduced Air Quality Management Areas (AQMA’s) in areas exceeding or, likely to exceed the air quality guidelines. The areas include, Iddesleigh Terrace in Dawlish, A379 along Bitton Park Road in Teignmouth, the old A380 through Kingskerswell and Newton Abbot Town Centre.
It was recently proposed that Dawlish and Kingskerswell AQMA’s should be revoked as they now have pollution levels, which meet or are reducing to safe levels. In Kingskerswell this improvement has come since the extension of the South Devon Highway which means less traffic travelling through the village. However, in Teignmouth and across Newton Abbot air pollution has actually got worse overall since 2005, whilst some monitoring points have seen improvement it is not good enough for a council who has declared a climate emergency, to still have areas where air quality guidelines are breached.
With more and more housing being built across the District, the number of cars on the road is unlikely to decrease. Everywhere you look there are plans to build more roads to ease congestion. Nevertheless, roads are not the answer to reducing air pollution, whilst this might mean specific locations are not exceeding guidelines the pollution is just moved somewhere else. There are many studies which have proved that whilst increasing road capacity, does reduce the time spent idling and in congestion, which leads to localised problems, an increase in the speed vehicles travel results in more, not less harmful emissions.
Whilst a lot of work continues to improve our road network to satisfy the needs of all the extra housing, which inevitably means more cars on the road. More work needs to be done to ensure developments bring with them, the required facilities to accommodate electric vehicles. We have become far to dependant on cars, a green revolution in walking cycling and use of public transport is needed, this will not only reap rewards in environmental, but also the physical health of us all.
Striking a balance with parking policy to ensure our towns stay vibrant
This is the time of year that all local councils from town and parish to county set out their budgets for the next 12 months. For nearly all councils spending is increasing as the cost of delivering quality services go up, meanwhile the money available to local councils from the Government has been on a downward spiral. Money needs to be found from somewhere to ensure high quality services can be provided for all. Nobody likes to pay more for the services we all take for granted, but at a time when the cost of everything in life is on the up, we all need to pay our fair share.
Parking charges are one easy thing for councils to target in order to raise much needed revenue. Income from parking brings in over £3 million (18/19) for Teignbridge District Council. Nationwide councils in England made profits of over £900 million from car parks in the same period, so are essential to boosting the coffers of dwindling council incomes. Finding somewhere to park your car, then needing to pay high parking charges is universally unpopular for drivers, those opposed to the increasing cost to park our cars say they mean people stay aware from our towns or, use up valuable spaces which local residents rely on were parking is free.
Our highstreet relies on ensuring people can get to them freely, with the rise of out of town shopping developments, often with free parking many people are seen to be turning their backs on town centres and heading out of town. Some will blame councils for facilitating the death of the high street with stifling parking charges. But high parking costs are not the only reason people stay away from town centres. It is a regular thing for towns like Newton Abbot to be gridlocked, not just during rush hour but frequently at other times through the week.
Paying to park in Newton Abbot is still considerably cheaper than in Neighbouring Torbay and Exeter City Centre, this makes towns in Teignbridge an enticing alternative. Newton Abbot has a number of shops and services not available in surrounding towns and villages, many visitors from these neighbouring areas will drive into the town due to lack of public transport options available. With it sometimes difficult to find a parking space in town centres this shows there is still an appetite for local goods and services.
Councils have to strike a balance when setting parking policy, both on street and off street, to make sure that there are spaces available for residents, high streets are kept vibrant and traffic is kept moving. Incentivising parking is one way to get people into our towns to spend money, but this does nothing to alleviate the problem of congestion bringing the area to a halt. Working to improve public transport links for local residents would go some way to make sure short journeys are avoided.
Underfunded and Under-resourced – Our Social Care System is in Crisis and Needs Urgent Reform
Our NHS is the envy of the world, free at the point of use for all, regardless of income. However universal health care does not extend to social care, to qualify for free social care certain criteria must be met. An individual’s eligibility for financial support from local authorities is based on two sets of criteria; the severity of their social care needs and financial situation. Those who do not meet the criteria for funding, must pay for all or part of the care they need from their own pocket.
Unlike the NHS social care is funded by local authorities, because of this there is no national social care budget. To fund social care local authorities, rely on a combination of council tax, business rates and grant funding from central government. The grants from the government were historically designed to compensate councils for the negative correlation between local tax bases and spending on social care. Eligibility for publicly funded social care is somewhat of a postcode lottery, as the criteria is set by each authority, this has created a system that is difficult for most understand.
The social care system has long been under-resourced, as most local authority budgets have failed to keep pace with the demographic pressures of an ageing population requiring care, along with disabled people with more complex needs. Significant reductions in overall local authority funding since 2010 has led to cuts to local social care budgets. While budgets have begun to rise in the last couple of years, in some areas funding is still well below the level it once was. Many councils also pay providers less than they need to deliver quality care, leading some to hand back contracts or go out of business, threatening the supply of publicly funded care to the people who need it. This has left the system on the edge of crisis.
Devon County Council has announced plans to boost spending on adult health and care for the next year. However, the council itself recognises the funding will never be enough to meet rising demand for social care. Every council taxpayer in Devon now pays money into a separate pot which is kept for the social care spending only.
There is no simple solution to the crisis in social care, with a growing population and advances in medicine people are living longer. There’s no doubt that the system needs fundamental reform. Spending reductions have affected access, with fewer people eligible for care. But they have also affected the ability of social care providers to deliver high quality services. One approach would be to fund social care in the same way as the NHS, free at the point of use, so that when individuals need care, they get access to this without need to worry about money.
Rail, Economic and Environmental Resilience – can we achieve all 3 together?
Network rail is currently running a consultation programme as part of the Parson’s Tunnel to Teignmouth Resilience Project. Events are being held across local communities, to inform the public of plans and to gather the opinions of residents.
The South West Rail Resilience Programme (SWRRP) was established by Network rail to identify and implement the best options to avoid a reoccurrence of events in January 2014. The destruction of the line in Dawlish by storms, caused the line which connects us to the rest of the country completely cut off, for several weeks. Those who are frequent users of the line will remember the difficulties of trying to travel on rail replacements. Dawlish is now, after 5 years seeing investment to protect the railway and the town.
Further along the line plans currently being suggested by Network rail include, realigning the railway line 30-50m away from the cliffs out to sea, this would avert any risk from rock falls and landslips, which is the main risk in this area. Opponents to the plans say moving the line further out to sea would have a significant negative impact on the natural environment. The campaign group Save Teignmouth and Holcombe beach are encouraging Network Rail to consider environmentally sympathetic alternatives that will preserve the beach, the sea wall and the vital railway link.
An inland route bypassing Dawlish and Teignmouth is something which has been suggested, with a range of differing options proposed. However, most have been rejected as they are not cost effective, with any plan to reopen existing or create new lines expected to cost billions. Any inland route would also involve large engineering projects, the old line between Exeter and Okehampton would still require a huge amount of work to ensure it is suitable for modern trains.
It is important for not just Dawlish, Teignmouth and Newton Abbot that the line stays open, but 50 towns further down the line rely on the railway as an important travel link. This vital transport link needs to be protected for the foreseeable future not only that, we need much more investment in the SW rail network, to make it more reliable and journeys more comfortable.
The government took 5 years to finally come up with the money to invest in protecting Dawlish, we cannot wait another 5 years for more investment, climate change is making extreme weather events more frequent. The railway as it is will not survive more storms and it is only a matter of time that another similar event like what happened in 2014 hits again.
Whatever the solution is to make the line more resilient for years to come it must protect the rail link which is vital to the SW economy, whilst also minimising the environmental and aesthetic impact on the local area. Whilst so many are opposed to the current plans Network Rail have, a cost effective alternative, which satisfies all concerned, needs to be found sooner rather than later.
Collaboration or Cost Cutting?
Local policing is something which has largely disappeared from our streets, it is now rare to see a visible police presence. But Newton Abbot is one of seven towns in Devon to be part of what has been described as an innovative fire and police collaboration project, funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner. Community responders are retained firefighters with full police powers, the new recruits are nearing the end of weeks of training and will hit the streets soon.
The role of community responders was created to provide a resource to fire and police services. Community responders can patrol as police officers within five minutes of designated fire stations so can respond to any fire shouts within the designated time, therefore “downtime” is used effectively. They will also be provided with electric bicycles to expand the area they can patrol. Similar initiatives have been introduced in Cornwall, although they have also merged the ambulance service to create “Tri-responders”.
Critics of the project call it a cost cutting exercise, with no real increase in the police or firefighter numbers. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) for Devon and Somerset say, “it is important to understand collaboration, but the differing roles need to be kept distinct” and the project, “undermines both roles in what should be fully funded and professional services”. All emergency service personnel are highly trained to deal with a wide range of situations, the FBU and others claim, it is impractical to expect firefighters, in addition to their own skills, to develop the same high level of expertise demanded by the duties of other emergency services, such as the ambulance service.
Whilst others will say collaboration can improve response times and coverage, increasing safety in rural areas. It also creates better connections with communities. Emergency services have always worked in collaboration with each other, there are many circumstances which require a joint response from multiple emergency services. This is happening less often as cuts affect all services, fire and rescue services now do not attend all road traffic collisions, they now only attend the most serious, simply because they do not have the resources.
The community responder project is being used as a pilot in Newton Abbot and in other towns, funding has been found an initial 2 years, which includes recruitment and training, it is still unclear if funding can be found by the police and crime commissioner to extend the project. We have been promised more police officers on the streets, will this include recruiting new police officers or just firefighters trained to carry out police duties when not attending incidents with the fire service?
Community Engagement Empowers Communities
With the “Safer Together” program now over, the results of the consultation are in, Devon and Somerset Fire and rescue service asked for our opinions. What the public gave them was, an overwhelming message of opposition to all the proposals suggested, with 95% of respondents clearly opposing all of the 6 options.
The main reasons for opposition will come as no surprise, increased risk in rural areas and vulnerable people due to the inevitable slower response times. Many criticised the consultation risk modelling, which gave no consideration to increasing population levels, increasing amounts of housing and in some areas, seasonal increases in population due to tourism. As is currently seen with events seen in Australia, climate change must also be taken into consideration when considering fire risk, even Dartmoor has seen wildfires during dry months of the year.
Despite the widespread option from the public, it was always unlikely the fire authority would decide to do nothing, savings still need to make across the board. The recommendations being put forward to the fire authority to approve include; closing Budleigh Salterton and Topsham; removal of third engine from Bridgwater, Taunton, Torquay and Yeovil; removal of second engines from Crediton, Lynton, Martock and Totnes and the introduction of roving engines.
Despite the likelihood that 2 stations will now close many will be pleased with the recommendations that are being put forward to the fire authority. The extent of the cuts is much less than many anticipated, this has to be down to strength of public opposition. Thousands completed the consultation questionnaire, wrote letters and signed petitions, all taken into consideration. However, some areas will be disappointed by the decision, these communities will be concerned about safety and response times. We just need to hope the result of decisions made now do not have consequences in the future.
What this exercise does show is that engagement with the community can have real benefits. Community engagement is built on the democratic idea that everyone who is affected by an issue that impacts their community should have a say in the decision making around it. It is not known what impact exactly the input of communities had on this decision; it could have been a lot worse if the decision were made by the fire authority alone.
Community engagement should be used in planning and decision making more often, especially in instances where multiple communities would be affected by changes. Increasing the level of community engagement must now be the aim for other consultations, making the process more accessible and a greater out-reach to all communities would achieve this. Although thousands responded to this consultation, hundreds of thousands more would have suffered the impact if the result of the consultation was different.
Small and community changes can help the collective world
With Christmas now over for another year and a new year and new decade now beginining, you may well have started, or be thinking about what change this new year will bring. Many of us look to change our lives in small ways, or for some big changes are in order, as we start a new decade. Whether it be simple changes such as joining the gym or dieting following the festivities of Christmas where we all over-indulge, or something a little more dramatic like embarking on “Veganuary” the trend of going vegetarian for a month, or maybe longer. How many of us actually stick to these new year’s resolutions?
With the environment firmly on people’s mind, many will no doubt be thinking what they can do to play their part, but not all of us will be able to afford to change to an electric vehicle or make big changes to the way we live our lives. But we can all do simple things to help. Changing habits such as recycling more, buying local and using a car less often can all have an impact on both the environment and our personal wellbeing.
Recycling as much as possible is becoming much easier, Teignbridge is always expanding the range of waste that can be recycled. Support the fantastic range of local businesses, we have in the area, not only benefitting the environment but also the local economy. Cut out non-essential car travel, walk, cycle or use public transport, if possible. We have a plethora of green spaces, all of which can be enjoyed by all for free, they offer an escape from the busy lives we all lead, I will be trying to spend more time enjoying the natural environment on offer all year round.
Helping others and getting involved in community projects should be the focus of more resolutions, whether it be as simple as donating to a charity, checking on elderly neighbours or volunteering with a local charity or community group. We can all do small things to change the lives of others, whilst also enhancing our own. Many more community groups and services are now reliant on the hard work of volunteers to ensure they can aid those who need it, so now is a great time for people to get involved and make a difference. Aside from the obvious benefits to others, volunteering and community involvement can have a positive impact on personal health and wellbeing, especially mental health.
Most of us think about what we change’s we can make to improve our own lives, new years resolutions are usually how these changes begin. If we all make small changes to help others and the environment, we can all have a collectively positive impact on our communities.
“Alone, we can do so little; together we can do so much” – Helen Keller.
The right to a decent home
For some becoming a homeowner is just a dream, plummeting wages and skyrocketing house prices in some areas, price many out of getting that first foot on the housing ladder. More and more people must how look to private rented property to find a home. Private renting is on the rise, particularly amongst younger households, the age group 25-34 now makes up around 35% of all renters in the UK.
Amid the housing crisis the UK is currently facing, when you have no option but to rent from a private landlord, you’d expect at least a decent home for your money, in some circumstances this is not the case. The English housing survey suggests a quarter of private rented homes are “non-decent”. For a property to be considered decent it must meet certain criteria such as, being safe, in a reasonable state of repair, reasonably modern and meeting a reasonable degree of thermal comfort. The survey claims the reason for so many homes not meeting these criteria is due to the age of the housing stock, with a large proportion of private rented homes being much older. However, much of this could also be down to some landlords not keeping property maintained.
One-way landlords are cashing in on the rise of people needing to rent is by creating houses of multiple occupancy (HMO’s) defined as 3 or more households normally sharing common areas, this creates a way for landlords to maximise the rental potential of large properties. All HMO’s are required to be registered with the local authority and landlords must meet certain standards and obligations including, gas and electrical safety certificated and smoke alarms. In October 2018 Teignbridge council had 15 houses registered as HMO’s, occupied by over 120 people. This type of housing is seen more widely in towns and cities with large student populations.
Whilst tenants have the right to live in a home which is safe, many still find themselves living in sub-standard conditions, many tenants are afraid of reporting landlords due to fears of being evicted. If a tenant has a complaint this must first be raised in writing to the landlord, tenants can then take this to local councils. Local councils must then investigate any issues and, if required inspect homes and order landlords to carry out repairs, they can also stop unfair evictions from happening.
It was recently announced an additional £4 million of funding has been made available to help councils tackle rogue landlords. Councils will be able to bid for a slice of this funding, to step up enforcement. Even though most landlords provide quality homes, a small minority continue to break the law and offer inadequate or unsafe housing. The funding which has been made available, will be used to allow good landlords to thrive, helping millions of hard-working tenants renting privately get the homes they deserve, ensuring those who follow the rules are not unfairly disadvantaged and creating a housing market that works for all.
Twenty’s plenty, is a scheme which has been adopted in many towns and cities and could be coming to a town near you. Devon County Council have been trialling 20 MPH across residential areas in parts of Newton Abbot and Kingskerswell. If this trial is a success, then it could be rolled out across Devon. It follows success stories from Bristol, Oxford and Portsmouth.
Campaigners for a reduction in speed limit cite many benefits, they include health and wellbeing, environmental and road safety. The general public generally support 20 MPH speed limits and zones already exist, however usually only outside schools. Devon County Council will currently only look at changing the speed limit or introducing, speed calming measures in areas which have collisions recorded, many communities would like to see measures introduced, but the evidence-based approach currently taken means the council thinks otherwise.
Larger cities have successfully rolled out 20MPH limits to all residential roads, this is then been extended to more roads in the centre of towns and surrounding areas. Cities such as Bristol have recent adopted this community-wide speed reduction. Studies have shown the number of road collisions drops considerably with every 1MPH drop in speeds.
In Bristol the speed limit has been enforced with mostly signs only, whilst this has been effective there is no hard enforcement of speed limits. The Police would have an integral role to play in enforcement, but due to falling numbers on our streets they would simple not be able to enforce this. The 20’s plenty for us, organisation calls for multi-agency collaboration and social marketing instead of just police enforcement. The aim for many campaigns is to make the speed limits “self-enforcing” and tries to change driver attitudes rather than enforce rules, this would involve a large marketing drive and signs to encourage drivers to drive at lower speeds. This is much cheaper than introducing measures such as speeds humps, but some would say is less effective.
But would lowering speed limits without enforcement work? Police do not have the numbers to support any enforcement action, community speed watch initiatives work well in practice but rely on limited volunteer numbers.
Lower speed limits are also said to increase walking and cycling making roads safer, but it would probably do nothing to battle the ongoing blight of congestion in Devon’s towns. Alongside 20MPH speed limits the counties roads can be made safer by cutting congestion, through investing in walking and cycling facilities and public transit infrastructure. Commuters already probably spend a large amount of a journey travelling at low speeds. Nobody can deny the safety benefits of lower speed limits, especially in residential areas. However more effort needs to be focussed on encouraging people our their cars rather than slowing them down, for the sake of our health, safety and environment.
Climate Change and Cuts Exacerbate Flooding
Last week large parts of Yorkshire and the East Midlands suffered from large-scale flooding, described by some as a “national emergency”, thousands have been forced out their homes, with many expected not to be able to return for months. There is no doubt that we are now seeing extreme weather events happening more frequently. The South West has seen its fair share of this type of weather, with disruption to roads and our railways common place, is this something we should just get used to?
We are all aware of the impact of severe weather on our everyday lives, think back to the storms in 2014 which destroyed part of the sea wall at Dawlish, paralysing the rail network. We are continually facing disruption due to storms in this area. Dawlish is however seeing significant investment to ensure the railway is protected from the sea. Our local Rivers and streams also regularly see high water levels. Though the river Lemon running through Newton Abbot has not flooded the town since 1979, huge surges of water can still be seen flowing through the town following periods of prolonged rainfall.
Large-scale flooding is something which reported in the news. Small-scale localised flooding of roads and properties is also widespread but is not always the result of high river levels. Blocked drains and unmaintained drainage channels are a common cause of more localised flooding. Especially in the autumn when drains become blocked with leaves and other debris. Cuts to local government, mean highway maintenance gets left behind. Under the current rules, water needs to be standing for more than 24 hours after rainfall as ceased for the authorities to act on blocked drains. We all know which local areas to avoid during heavy rain knowing the drains will be blocked and roads unpassable.
Our emergency services and even the Environment Agency struggle to respond to floods. Devon and Somerset are still awaiting the outcome of the “safer together” consultation which will reveal what the future holds for our fire and rescue service, flooding is just another thing to add to a long list of services which we need the fire and rescue service to respond to quickly.
Our natural environment is the best flood defence there is, but this seems to be disappearing and our landscape changing into housing developments and roads, this is without doubt going to worsen surface water flooding in some areas. Climate change is also expected to bring more severe weather to the UK, with this will also come more flooding. We will never be able to eliminate the risk of flooding, but we can do more to deal with the impacts when it does happen. Ensuring local authorities have the funding to clear block drains, before flood water becomes so bad it damages property. Emergency services and other agencies also need the resources to prevent flooding and or, respond to it efficiently and safely when it does happen.
Fracking or renewables ?
Fracking is breaking news in the UK at the moment, the controversial method of extracting shale gas from rock deep underground and the associated environmental concerns make it widely opposed across the UK. Shale gas is, a natural gas used for heating and cooking in homes, its extraction from the earth involves pumping pressurised, water, sand and chemicals into boreholes which then fractures rock allowing the gas to flow to the surface.
There are plenty of justified reasons that campaigners have when it comes to opposing fracking, from water contamination to local earth tremors, which have been widely reported in areas of fracking activity. Fracking is, not only unsustainable but does nothing to combat global warming and widespread climate change. Plans go directly against the commitment of the Paris Climate Agreement to end the use of fossil fuels. And a recent independent government report stated that fracking is simply not compatible with the UK’s climate targets.
Fracking operations in the UK are relatively small scale in the UK, it is quite right to oppose the activity, especially in times when climate change is high on the agenda. However, the UK must also drastically reduce its reliance on oil and gas, if we are to even dream of hitting those targets set out by the Paris Agreement. Latest reports from climate finance analysts, Carbon Tracker warn that global reserves of fossil fuels still significantly exceed the amount that can be burned to stay within Paris limits.
There is, however, some good news stories on the horizon when it comes to climate change. Renewable energy sources now provide more electricity to homes and businesses than fossil fuels. Electricity from British windfarms, solar panels and renewable biomass is now surpassing that produced by fossil fuels for the first time since the UK’s first power station fired up in 1882. An ever-growing sight on our coastlines are offshore windfarms, an increase in energy generated by this sort of technology has seen renewables now account for nearly 40% of the country’s electricity, this is a crucial tipping point in our energy transition.
These large-scale renewable energy generation projects need to work in hand with reducing overall consumption, we will never be able to transition to low carbon if we do not tackle energy efficiency in our homes and businesses. Ensuring all homes are as efficient as possible would drastically reduce the amount of energy we use as well as save us all money. All homes and businesses should all have energy-saving upgrades including loft insulation, double glazing and more efficient heating systems. Building upgrades coupled with accelerated transition to renewable energy is the only way the UK can meet new tougher targets on emissions and become leaders in the battle against climate change.
Universal credit was introduced in Teignbridge in September 2018. It was introduced to replace 6 separate benefit payments including, jobseekers’ allowance, income support and housing benefit. To describe this massive change in the UK welfare system as controversial is an understatement. Since the roll out began it has been plagued with huge delays, mounting costs and blamed for causing hardship for many of those most vulnerable people in our society.
Charities are blaming it for a huge increase in the use of foodbanks across the country. The Trussell Trust research found the use of foodbanks increased by 30% in the 12 months following implantation, in some areas this use of foodbanks was also shown to increase over time, rather than fall which most would expect. The reason for this is put down to the 5 weeks a claimant needs to wait before receiving first payments. Those struggling to cope are having to decide between hardship now, or hardship later. This is putting immeasurable strain on advice services, council-led crisis provision and foodbanks, with many local charities and organisations taking the strain due to cuts in other services.
You don’t need to search very hard to find stories of those suffering at the hands of this cruel welfare policy,locally and nationally people are forced into homelessness at the hands of a system which supporting those who need it most. Tenants are getting into arrears and facing evictionbecause of the long wait for money, with many ending up on the streets. Coupled with mounting debt trying to pay for the rest of life’s necessities, this is leading to increased anxiety for many. With half of claimants reporting worsening mental health whilst waiting for payments, leading to many preventable deaths.
Rather than acting as a safety net to ensure vulnerable people do not face destitution, the stories from across the country seem to be telling a very different story of the realities of living on universal credit. The current levels of benefits coupled with rising rents and living costs, are locking people into poverty. Instead of helping those with disabilities and long-term health conditions, the system is having the opposite effect, making daily life harder.
Universal credit was supposed to make life easier, instead it has reversed many of the things a well-functioning welfare system is supposed to provide. The whole system is an unmitigated disaster and should be stopped in its tracks. It should then be replaced with a fully integrated, NHS style of social security, there for those who need it in times of need.
Integrated Public Transport
Personal car ownership is on the rise, with many families owning more than one car, this has put pressure on our towns and city centres, but also on residential areas, our towns cannot cope with the amount of traffic on the road. Residents are increasing frustrated by sitting in traffic for hours after a long day at work. Traffic in Newton Abbot and our ever-expanding outskirts will only get worse, as Teignbridge council adopt the local plan, which involves building residential and employment developments across the district.
With the climate emergency on the agenda on all local authorities, including here in Devon and Teignbridge. Planners are tackling the increase in traffic by building new roads across our countryside, but is this the only way of beating congestion?
While new roads shorten journey times for most commuters, ambitious plans for the district to be carbon neutral will not be achievable unless we see major changes in transport provision. Whilst I advocate the use of electric cars, a complete transition to this would be too slow to meet targets set by 2030. A different approach is needed one that aims to put fast, reliable transportation services within walking distance of as many homes and jobs as possible.
Whilst Newton Abbot is lucky to have the main railway line connecting the SW to London and beyond, this is not a luxury which is in reach of everyone. Many of those not living within easy of reach of the railways, especially those in the surrounding residential areas and villages, know the difficulty of trying to get home after a train journey.
The lack of integration and coverage of local public transport is the reason that many have no choice but to get into cars when travelling to work. The reason for this lack of integration is probably down to the fragmentation of our transport networks, all owned by different companies, with the major interest being profit, instead of providing a reliable, efficient and cheap service for passengers.
By fully integrating all modes of public transport we will see social, environmental and economic benefits for all. A bus can take 75 cars off the road, with obvious benefits in terms of relieving congestion and cutting pollution, more consideration needs to be put into integrating better public transport into our local communities, enabling everybody to access, work, schools, hospitals and high streets with ease.
Ideally, we need a nationwide public transport system planned, implemented and managed by a single authority. Local authorities should be investing in public transport if they are serious about cutting carbon emissions and cutting congestion, better planning is required for new developments to ensure they can be accessed by sustainable, affordable and efficient public transport.
Local Authority Cuts
Many people are confused about which council does what, in brief; Devon County Council is responsible for education, health & social care, and highways; Teignbridge District Council is responsible for rubbish collection/recycling, maintaining green spaces, car parks, and most public toilets; Town/Parish Councils are responsible for allotments, upkeep of footpaths, café pavement licenses, and local museums, and are statutory consultees to the District Planning Authority on planning applications.
Since 2010 local authorities have seen their funding slashed, but with increasing, aging, populations, and a constant need to provide health and social care for the elderly and vulnerable, some things are being neglected by councils, since they have no choice but to prioritise spending.
As funding is cut, councils need to make difficult financial decisions. Things like education, though still cut to the bone, will need priority funding. Many councils are now struggling to meet their statutory duty of care to their local people, let alone providing for the extra community projects that would enhance the towns they serve.
Notable concerns to many people are those things which visibly blight the neighbourhood; potholes and overgrown weeds, for example. The highways department will now only attend to these sorts of things if they are likely to cause a major hazard to drivers or pedestrians. I have seen plenty of local footpaths unpassable, but not deemed a severe enough hazard to be dealt with quickly.
Recently, we have seen stories in the local media of small armies of volunteers who have been hitting the streets to litter pick, tidy flower beds, clean road signs, and clear paths of obstructions. Whilst this is commendable, councils should not be encouraged to neglect essential maintenance because they think, if it gets bad enough, the public will be convinced to take care of it.
Councils, and councillors like myself, must be continuously lobbying for better funding, to allow us to maintain regular upkeep, without relying on unstable, volunteer manpower.
In Newton Abbot, grass verge cutting, which is the responsibility of Devon County Council, is not being done regularly enough, if at all, which is not going unnoticed by local people. The Town Council is currently looking into a solution, with the possibility of taking this on as an additional responsibility, but it will not come for free, and will need to be carefully budgeted for, to ensure the solution is sustainable.
Town and Parish Councils are taking up the slack for underfunded County and District Councils, which means many of the things provided by the most local councils would disappear forever if they were unable to take on the commitment.
Well funded councils build attractive, sustainable, communities; which encourage visitors and buyers alike to come and enrich our towns, and our local economies.