THE EXETER DIGEST

Exeter Digest #21: Greener grass? - Council lottery - EDF secrecy - £2.2 million ECL loss

A bumper festive holiday edition also covers the nurses strike, South West Water's 'sustained poor performance' and the university's gender pay gap plus a Community Infrastructure Levy consultation.

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TOP STORIES

IS THE GRASS REALLY GREENER IN EXETER CITY CENTRE?

Academic research placing Exeter retail area at top of green space table was nationally reported, locally misrepresented then repurposed as booster fuel by local politicians overlooking study’s social justice focus.

COUNCIL LOTTERY OPERATOR TO TAKE CUT FROM LOCAL CHARITABLE DONATIONS

Decision to promote gambling as “incentivised giving” plays down risks without assessing potential impacts or evidencing claimed benefits, disrupting relationships between community and voluntary sector organisations and supporters.

EXETER CITY FUTURES FALSELY CLAIMS DEVELOPMENT FUND DOCUMENTS DISCLOSED UNDER FOI LEGISLATION

Senior council director puts company on collision course with Information Commissioner’s Office as significant governance failings emerge after councillors and public kept in dark over Liveable Exeter financing scheme proposals.

FIRST DAY OF HISTORIC NURSES STRIKE GOES AHEAD AFTER GOVERNMENT REFUSES TO NEGOTIATE OVER PAY

Royal College of Nursing members out in force at Exeter NHS trusts alongside colleagues across the country as recruitment crisis threatens profession.

SOUTH WEST WATER PERFORMANCE REMAINS AMONG WORST IN SECTOR AS IT FALLS FURTHER BEHIND TARGETS

Regulator highlights “sustained poor performance” after serious pollution incidents nearly triple and Environment Agency condemns company in annual assessment.

EXETER CITY LIVING PUT COUNCIL AT “SIGNIFICANT FINANCIAL RISK” AFTER £2.2 MILLION LOSS IN FIRST TWO YEARS

Missing business plan, lack of transparency and conflicts of interest among senior council directors prompt board resignations and governance review at council-owned and funded company.

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER LAGS BEHIND ON FEMALE PAY AND EMPLOYMENT TERMS

HESA figures show poor performance compared with Universities UK members and only incremental changes over past five years, mostly since staff began industrial action over pay, pensions and working conditions.

ON THE AGENDA

COMMUNITY INFRASTRUCTURE LEVY REVIEW

Exeter City Council is consulting on a partial review of the charges it levies on developers to pay for community grants, habitat impact mitigation and projects like Marsh Barton railway station.

Its decision to launch a public consultation as the holiday period begins follows an attempt by opposition councillors to prevent the proposals going ahead in their current form.

The council employed a firm of consultants to produce background and viability reports to justify its revised charging proposals which are incomplete and insufficiently evidenced.

The revised charging schedule will be submitted for public examination next year. Anyone wishing to speak at the examination hearing must notify the council in writing before the end of consultation period on 25 January.

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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

INFORMATION COMMISSIONER TO INVESTIGATE UNIVERSITY OVER STUDENT ACCOMMODATION NUMBERS REFUSAL

Compliance failure follows university admission that nearly 39,000 students based at Exeter campuses in 2021-22, suggesting around three quarters of city’s private rented housing stock occupied by students.

STAGECOACH ESCAPES MAJOR SANCTIONS OVER SERVICE FAILURES

Traffic commissioner decides four days of free weekend travel in Exeter Plus ticket zone is sufficient penalty for poor performance despite public inquiry hearing severe criticism of company.

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER STAFF STRIKE IN LARGEST WALKOUT IN SECTOR HISTORY

Dispute over pay, pensions and working conditions continues as universities generate record income.

MOTOR VEHICLE INFRASTRUCTURE CONTINUES TO DOMINATE DEVON TRANSPORT SPENDING

New active travel infrastructure to receive just 5% share of capital allocations this year and next, with new roads capital expenditure to increase from 74% to 86%.

LAST WORD

Exeter City Council’s announcement this week that its CEO Karime Hassan is leaving at the end of March came replete with a range of eyebrow-raising claims yet was missing key information.

We’re looking forward to examining the former and investigating the latter in the new year.

In the meantime, best wishes for the festive season to all our readers from everyone at Exeter Observer.



Recent headlines
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Auditor value for money arrangements recommendations summary chart

Auditor broadens inquiry to include Exeter City Futures and ex-CEO secondment to liquidated company

Devon County Council SEND spending 2019-20 to 2024-25 bar chart

SEND deficit deal demands £50m budget cuts, £13m asset sales and use of £20m financial reserves

Devon & Torbay Combined County Authority governance structure diagram

Devon devolution deal to create unaccountable local government layer for paltry £16 million payoff

Exeter St Thomas station

Access for all? Mobility-impaired passengers still cannot catch their train from some Exeter stations

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BRIEFINGS  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

When, where and how to vote in the 2024 Exeter local elections

Our guide to casting your ballot in person, by post and by proxy as well as voter ID requirements and new regulations for postal votes.

Auditor value for money arrangements recommendations summary chart

ANALYSIS  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Auditor broadens inquiry to include Exeter City Futures and ex-CEO secondment to liquidated company

More 'significant weaknesses' found in city council governance and financial and performance management arrangements while St Sidwell's Point valued at £7 million less than build cost and £370,000 ex-CEO final year pay and benefits confirmed.

Devon County Council SEND spending 2019-20 to 2024-25 bar chart

NEWS  ⁄  COMMUNITY & SOCIETY

SEND deficit deal demands £50m budget cuts, £13m asset sales and use of £20m financial reserves

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Devon & Torbay Combined County Authority governance structure diagram

COMMENT  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Devon devolution deal to create unaccountable local government layer for paltry £16 million payoff

Democratic deficit to increase as city and district councils lose control over housing and prosperity funding and transport policy powers moved out of reach, while county council plans to approve deal irrespective of public consultation outcome.

Exeter St Thomas station

COMMENT  ⁄  TRANSPORT & MOBILITY

Access for all? Mobility-impaired passengers still cannot catch their train from some Exeter stations

National railway accessibility policies fail to deliver local transport network access as Exeter St Thomas station improvement funding bid decision awaited.

On Our Radar
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ANALYSIS  ⁄  COMMUNITY & SOCIETY

£1+ million for Wonford community hub project development but £7 million build finance not yet found

City council presented £750,000 'feasibility proposal' as progression of existing plans despite having to start again after three years to cut costs, with Exeter City Living awarded £550,000 project contract.

Proposed Heavitree Road bus lane bus priority signals

NEWS  ⁄  TRANSPORT & MOBILITY

Bus corridor consultation presents more incremental changes to Exeter road network

£2.4 million Heavitree and Pinhoe Road 'upgrades' have 'potential for an approximate four-minute journey time saving' at peak times along length of each corridor.

Southgate development site heritage map

NEWS  ⁄  PLANNING & PLACE

Secretary of State overturns council decision to waive Southgate site Environmental Impact Assessment

Proposals for up to 200 flats in high-rise tower blocks have potentially significant impacts on Exe Estuary avian flightpaths, Exeter Cathedral skyline, listed buildings and ancient city walls placing protected landscapes and heritage assets at risk.

Devon County Council 2023-24 vs 2024-25 service delivery budgets bar graph

ANALYSIS  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

£50 million county council 2024-25 service delivery cuts concealed by £93 million costs increases

Figures essentially unaffected by budget scrutiny process during which councillors sought details of where and how cuts would fall but received few proper answers.

Stagecoach subsidiary operating companies 2022-23 pre-tax profits bar chart

ANALYSIS  ⁄  TRANSPORT & MOBILITY

Stagecoach South West posts largest losses in sector despite greatest growth in journey numbers

Lowest year on year revenue rise compounded by above average staffing costs increase as £2 bus fare cap continues to prop up passenger demand.

Liveable Exeter Placemaking Charter cover image

ANALYSIS  ⁄  PLANNING & PLACE

Liveable Exeter Placemaking Charter consultation skewed towards only one of five 'core tools'

Private developers' forum and other major components of new charter not mentioned in council communications, but transparency and new 'culture of openness' to 'help build trust in the planning system' emphasised throughout.

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