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Manifesto - Elections May 2023

06 Dec 2022 08:40

I was elected in May 2019 as a Lib Dem District Councillor with an intention and a public commitment to work with colleagues across the political spectrum to address the calamity of climate change, the lack of social or affordable housing and the many other issues that effect us all.

It has been a very frustrating four years. The Tories have a majority of just one, and while individual Tory members have been friendly and collegiate, they are subject to a whip and a toxic bullying leadership which has made collaboration impossible. They have not respected or recognised the slim mandate they have and simply vote en-block on every issue. Debate is pointless. It is not how local democracy should operate.

We need to take control of the Council, restore democracy and officer accountability and work with community partners and organisations to implement an agenda that addresses the many problems we all face. If we do win a majority, these are my manifesto commitments:

The following supports the South Hams Lib Dem Manifesto Summary link

Climate Change

There is a climate emergency and time is running out. If we continue at our current level of eCO2 emissions we have about 5-6 years left of our remaining carbon budget after which the prospect of limiting global warming to 1.5C will be history. Clearly the district of South Hams cannot fix climate change by itself, but I believe it is imperative and a duty to show what can be done. It is incumbent on every Council to do this but South Hams should have the resolve and ambition to be a leader and an example to others.

  1. There will be an annual budget allocation of at least £0.5M or 5% of the Council's annual budget earmarked for Climate Change and Biodiversity projects. This fund will be managed by a Climate Change and Biodiversity Committee, which will also include representatives from local organisations and experts.
    Reason: There are many things the Council can and should be doing. We need to involve partners across the district to build a coherent programme that will deliver the change that is now so urgent. This process is going on now, so please get in touch, if you want to be involved.

  2. The Council's Climate Change Action Plan will be reviewed.
    Reason: It current fails to begin to address the enormity of what we face and needs radical surgery so that it provides a clear path with measurable targets. See also the Climate Action link article. A revised Action Plan will include but is not limited to:

    1. Targeted Home Insulation Loan and Grant Programme to reduce domestic energy consumption by 20%
      Reason: Domestic carbon emissions account for about 25% of the total. Properly insulated homes are therefore essential to reduce emissions and to reduce energy costs. However, a recent study (the Energy Crisis Report open_in_new) suggests that to reduce emissions by 34% would cost £96M, which is way beyond the resources of SHDC. So we need to target the most vulnerable and look at how to get the best affordable efficiency gains from the 18,612 properties identified in the report by:

      1. creating a comprehensive list of properties to target, with eCO2 reduction assessment and funding eligibility. Work with local partners and share resources like infrared cameras etc.
      2. promoting encouraging and helping with Energy Company Obligation - ECO4 open_in_new claims, which will help those on qualifying benefits;
      3. encouraging and supporting Energy Company Obligation - LA FLEX open_in_new claims, which will help those on low incomes but not on benefits;
      4. engage with the Energy Redress Fund open_in_new to ensure all those who are eligible receive help;
      5. encouraging Lendology open_in_new claims, which will help those who can afford a low interest loan;
      6. building a register of private landlords and working with them to ensure all rented accommodation is EPC band C or above.
    2. Energy usage reduction linked to Council Tax Reduction Incentives
      Reason: Better insulation will reduce the demand for energy but there is also a need to reduce demand by lowering heating levels and encouraging the 'heat the body not the building' approach. Those eligible for CTR will be able to apply for help; for instance for free locally made eco-friendly Hooded Blanket open_in_news.

    3. A Traffic Reduction Plan
      Reason: Commercial and private travel accounts for 40+% of local emissions. The move to electric vehicles (EV) will take time and require huge investment. Devon County Council is planning to provide 2000 charge points across Devon by 2030, as well as gullies in pavements to allow on-street charging. However, the Society of Motor Manufactures and Traders (SMMT) say we will need to 2.3 million Chargepoints by 2030 open_in_new. Based on population, this means 32,200 in Devon and 2,990 in the South Hams. It is hoped the private sector will fill this very large gap in the next 7 years, but there are many challenges, not least the availability of batteries, the capacity of the grid, the availability of green power. So, alongside the move to EV we need to considerably reduce the number and length of journeys, by:

      1. Working with groups and DCC to promote active travel and to develop walking and cycle routes and to make bids for Active Travel Grants open_in_new.
      2. Improving public transport availability by working with local providers to develop sustainable strategies; multi-function usage, demand-led services, integrated booking systems, etc.
      3. Introducing car sharing and load sharing schemes based on a modern booking and reward systems that will also allow complex journey patterns.
      4. Providing a range of incentive schemes (see Green Economy - Social Currency below).
      5. Helping establish car-clubs.
      6. Reduce work-place parking and encourage public/shared commuter schemes.
      7. Reduce the need to travel (see next section: Green Economy).
    4. A comprehensive plan to build a sustainable local Green Economy
      Reason: Driving down eCO2 emissions is a big challenge. Keeping them down is just as big a challenge. We need to established a local economy which has minimal carbon cost (zero or net zero) and one that protects and enhances the environment. A green economy is one that by definition delivers this, but there are many models that describe how a green economy should work. Doughnut Economics open_in_new provides some principles. Some believe we should be Reversing the Freight Train open_in_new of growth and work towards Degrowth open_in_new, others believe Green Growth open_in_new is possible. However, it is clear that controlling, directing and managing growth is central to creating a green economy. It is also necessary to create the right conditions and infrastructure:

      1. Encourage investment in the renewable energy sector including the skills to support and maintain. Build on the Floating Offshore Wind (FLOW) initiative which will create many skilled green jobs and opportunities (see Baltic Wharf link).
      2. Work with partners to ensure the district has the cross-section of skills to increase the efficiency of homes, install and maintain PVs, install and maintain EV charge points, etc
      3. With partners, create a local platform for the ordering and delivery of locally produced product, to encourage the purchase of local products and to protect local businesses from the 'Amazon' effect. The platform would also support, 'community shopping', allowing individuals in a community to place orders for items and for these orders to be fulfilled and delivered together, greatly reducing traffic. (see Local Retail Platform link )
      4. Introduce a local electronic currency to encourage local spending (see Social Currency link )
      5. By working with partners, encourage and support the re-use and re-purposing of items and to promote the ideals of a Circular Economy open_in_new where ever possible.
    5. Work to overhaul the Joint Local Plan open_in_new (JLP) so that all developments are carbon neutral, both during development and once occupied, and to ensure that any new housing development is addressing a local need by applying a covenant, and that there is a fully appraised biodiversity threshold reached.
      Reason: The JLP is out of date and does not provide the policies that are needed to control the carbon cost of new development. Also, any new developments need to address a proven need. The current formula of requiring a net gain in biodiversity is flawed and there needs to be a minimum threshold that applies to all sites.

    6. Set up Climate cafe/'drop-in centres' in Totnes, Dartmouth, Kingsbridge and Ivybridge
      Reason: To engage with residents and businesses on how they can meet the challenges of Climate Change and Biodiversity loss and to establish an on-going dialogue with the public on what the Council is or should be doing.

Community Investment Strategy

The Council has a long term need to make investments that will generate revenue. Funding from central government has declined by xx% over the last xx years and this will get considerably worse given the dire state of the nation's finances.

To date the Council has attempted to invest in big capital projects yielding at best a 1% return on investment. This is not sufficient, and would not be acceptable out side of local government. The argument is that you cannot take risks with public money and this is a reasonable return due to the imited of risk. But many these projects have failed and have cost the Council considerable amounts of money (the failed Aldi project in Ivybridge cost £480,000), which suggests the approach to risk is not consistent or is being poorly assessed.

  1. The Council will build a portfolio of small community investments, with an average return on investment of over 2.5%.
    Reason: It is a much better way of distributing and managing risk and it is an approach that plays perfectly into the need to make our communities resilient and sustainable and to promote local self-reliance and the green-economy. The Council needs to invest in the myriad local organisations and local companies. It needs to get involved as a stakeholder, providing expertise as well as finance. See Power to Change's paper: Investing in Localism open_in_new.

  2. The Council will review its Fixed Asset Register of almost £100M with a view to disposing of 10% to raise £10M for funding community investment, including affordable homes.
    Reason: The cost of borrowing has increased considerably which means it makes more sense to redeploy existing assets.

  3. The Council will review its short and long term investments of liquid assets of over £50M to achieve a return of at least 2.5%.
    Reason: Because it is undoubtedly possible without a material increase in risk, and this would generate an extra £0.75M for the Council.

  4. The Council will focus on building social housing and green infrastructure with the £0.5M New Homes Bonus open_in_new (NHB) it will receive from central government as a reward for building houses.
    Reason: The NHB is a motivation to build houses, but there is an extra amount for affordable homes. We need affordable homes and that should be the focus. Currently, NHB goes into the general revenue budget. The NHB scheme is under review and may not last much longer.

  5. The Council will review the Expression of Interest it made in the area being part of a so called Investment Zone.
    Reason: There is a lack of clarity as to the implications of the wider Freeport area becoming an Investment Zone and the possible relaxation of planning rules.

  6. The ownership of all Council assets held on behalf of Town and Parish Councils (playparks, car-parks, etc) will be passed back to the relevant local Council.
    Reason: To give proper direct control of these assets back to local communities. The District Council will then treat all these assets as equal and will work with the Towns and Parishes to develop these essential community facilities (currently the Council is only supporting ones it 'owns'). Also, in the event of SHDC being absorbed into a Unitary Authority, these will assets remain in local ownership and control. Given the financial woes of Devon County Council there is a possibility this might happen, although it will be resisted and it will take time. Some assets will be rented back to the Council.

Housing

There is a housing crisis, and what is needed are truly affordable and social housing. We do not need any further market value housing. For more information see the Housing Crisis link article. According to Devon Home Choice July 22 open_in_new there were 853 in housing need in the South Hams with another 756 looking. One bedroom properties are in the greatest need at over 57%.

  1. Set up a Local Housing Company owned by the Council through which it will seek to rebuild a stock of social housing/accommodation.
    Reason: The district needs a mix of affordable housing and social housing. The Council needs to rebuild its stock of social housing across the district so that it is provided close to where it is needed. It is very difficult to do this directly as a Council as it would have to operate a Housing Revenue Account (HRA) which comes with a raft of onerous regulations, including the Right to Buy, which while it results in receipts these are rarely sufficient and means the Council is on a treadmill. A Local Housing Company avoids this burden and would allow the Council to once again hold a stable and increasing stock of social housing, as it used to.

  2. Improve and expand the delivery of the services offered through Seamoor Homes open_in_new.
    Reason: This service provides an important mechanism to ensure fair rents.

  3. Set up a register of sites suitable for residential mobile home parks and to work with partners to develop these.
    Reason: To encourage sites to come forward, and to provide truly affordable homes that can be owned for less that £100,000 for 3 bedrooms.

  4. Set up a register of sites suitable for self-build or truly affordable/social housing only development .
    Reason: To encourage sites to come forward, and to be able to assign them to potential private developers, as has been done in other local authorities.

  5. Invest £20M over 4 years in Affordable and Social Housing. Transfer the contents of the Affordable Housing Earmarked Reserve to the Local Housing Company.
    Reason: The South Hams is a High Affordability Pressure Area open_in_new and has a severe shortage of social and affordable housing which is affecting the caring, hospitality and many other sectors. There is a desperate need for housing that will allow people to live close to where they work and be part of a community.

  6. Acquire suitable properties as they become available, including flats over shops and other small properties.
    Reason: We need to be able to provide accommodation where it is needed and to build a portfolio of properties that is guided by need but cannot be met by new builds or other means.

  7. Commit to the use of Modular Homes technology in delivering new affordable/social homes.
    Reason: The delivery of Modular Homes is fast and cheap. They deliver highly efficient homes and the carbon-cost of the build is considerably less than conventional builds.

  8. Work with partners to bid for funds from the Affordable Housing Programme open_in_new. Reason : The AHP runs until 2026 and with a fund of £7.3 billion.

  9. Use the Ropewalk site in Kingsbridge to build a mix of truly affordable homes and Council owned social housing .
    Reason: This site is owned by the Council and so does not have acquisition costs and should be used to address the lack of affordable/social housing and to create a flagship of how such a site can be developed without introducing market-value housing. **

Poverty

We live in a stunningly beautiful area that on the face of it seems quite affluent. But this disguises the fact that there are a significant number of people who are struggling. One very telling statistic from the charity End Child Poverty in 2018 link, showed the level of child poverty across South Hams as being one of the worst in the South West at 29.3%, while even in our local ward of West Dart it was an unacceptable 16.2%. Child poverty is just a manifestation of wider hardships issues that will now be considerably worse due to the cost of energy and inflation. Your Council needs to seek out those that need help.

  1. The Council needs to acquire and build property for social housing.
    Reason: The cost of accommodation is prohibitive for many people. (see also Housing above)

  2. The Council will become an accredited Real Ref(Living Wage) employer and develop an educational programme to promote its benefits across the district.
    Reason: Many people are on the National Minimum Wage, also called the National Living Wage for over 25s, but it is insufficient to pay the bills. The level of minimum wage is set by government and is based on a formula that does not reflect people’s basic needs. In contrast, the Real Living Wage is based on the cost of living.

  3. The Council will actively support the network of food-banks across the district and work with local businesses to supply them. It will help establish Community Fridges and local community food production.
    Reason: Food poverty, like child poverty, is symptomatic of many underlying social problems which need to be addressed, but it is clearly a problem in itself. The need for food banks was growing before the current cost of living crisis.

  4. To help address Fuel Poverty the Council will prioritise increasing the energy efficiency of those households in fuel poverty and with a low EPC rating
    Reason: According to BEIS Fuel Poverty 2020 open_in_new data, 10.8% of households in the South Hams are in Fuel Poverty (spend more than 10% of income on fuel). The cost of living crisis has trebled this number in some areas, so it is not unreasonable to expect the South Hams figure to be close to 20%. This amounts to about 8000 households that need help.

General Governance

  1. Reverse the decision not to have a receptionist.
    Reason: Because while many are able and happy to do everything online or on the phone, there are a significant number that find it very difficult and need the help and comfort of dealing directly with a human individual. The Council should not become a faceless corporate. There should be more 'receptions' not less. We need drop-in/outreach centres in Ivybridge, Kingsbridge and Dartmouth. We need to work with partners like the food-banks, Citizens advice and others to provide a cost effective and efficient service that provides for the vulnerable members of our community.

  2. Improve the Planning Service
    Reason: While there have been recent changes, there are far too many levels of management, the prioritisation of work could be greatly improved, the use of technology needsthere are not enough planning officers and the use of 'independent' planning officers to work on large application who are funded by the applicant should cease.

  3. Overhaul the Enforcement Service
    Reason: This service is on its knees and not effective. The systems in place are far from adequate. It needs better prioritisation, better categorisation of cases, better communication with members, better alerting and deadlines.

The Constitution

The Constitution of the Council open_in_new is a very important document as it governs how the Council is run. In its current form it is deeply flawed. It gives far too much power to unelected officers. For local government to work properly elected members must be in control. (This is a bit dry, but it is very important). There needs to be the following changes and additions:

  1. Unauthorised spending limits should be returned to £10,000. (It was recently increased to £100,000)
    Reason: To ensure the prudent control of spending and elected members involvement in spending decisions.

  2. All projects of a gross value in excess of £100,000 should be scrutinised by the Audit Committee at least once every 3 months.
    Reason: To provide proper oversight of projects and to avoid the many expensive project failures of the last few years.

  3. The Full Council will sit every six weeks (currently 8 weeks).
    Reason: To ensure full and proper involvement of elected members in decision making, and to make the agendas less dense and allow proper debate.

  4. Scrap the 20 word limit on Questions to Council.
    Reason: It is quite unnecessary and makes it impossible to provide context for a question, resulting in a lack of proper understanding by the public and members of the purpose of a question, and indeed the answer.

  5. Motions not heard at Council meetings due to a time limit of 1 hour for motions are rolled over to the next meeting.
    Reason: So that motions are always heard and there is not the unseemly lottery of who gets a motion in first in the run up to every Council meeting.

  6. Only allow the Monitoring Officer to disallow a Motion for debate if it is proposing something that it can be proven would be unlawful.
    Reason: To prevent the stifling of democratic debate and to allow elected members to lobby central government or debate any matter they feel is important to their residents.

  7. The so called Senior Leadership Team of officers will hold a general Question and Answer session for elected members once every 2 months.
    Reason: To improve accountability and provide an opportunity for open and informal discussion between officers and members.

  8. There will be a Consultation Protocol that ensures that all projects undertake full, proper and ongoing consultation during the lifetime of the project.
    Reason: To ensure that local members, Town and Parish Councils, and local residents are able to input into a project and are kept fully informed of progress.

  9. Any emergency powers granted to officers must be time-limited and only retained if ratified by Full Council within 14 days and every 28 days thereafter, by a vote or a remote consultative process (as has been operated successfully and without challenge by East Devon District Council for several years).
    Reason: To avoid the prolonged and unacceptable setting aside of democracy that was endured during Covid and to ensure the Council is able to exercise proper democratic control over how an emergency is managed.

  10. No changes to the constitution should be made without full consultation with all members and approved by Full Council. Minor changes may be made but only where they are limited to correcting or improving layout, spelling or grammar.
    Reason: To put an end to creeping changes being introduced by officers and to underline that the Constitution is owned by elected members.

  11. All reports commissioned internally or externally by the Council will be made available to elected members on receipt.
    Reason: To improve transparency and shared responsibility. Every member has a duty to respect and protect confidentiality, but confidentiality should never be used to limit access and members' ability to know the full facts and to be able to question and hold the Council to account.

  12. The Executive will not reserve any matter to itself without the explicit and conditional authority of Full Council. Where such authority has not been given it will be a matter for the Full Council.
    Reason: To ensure proper democratic control of decision making and to ensure that the Executive is not able reserve matters to itself by default and thereby exclude members ability to vote on important topics, as it can at the moment (eg. Climate Change).