Third annual report highlights council’s remarkable performance despite budgetary austerity
The news that East Devon District Council is continuing to make great progress and achieve a great deal in the district despite a financially challenging climate was revealed in the local authority’s annual report for 2014-2015. The report shows that against increasingly tighter odds and higher customer expectations, the council is continuing to provide excellent value-for-money services and projects, from quality housing and regeneration to coastal protection and supporting local town economies.
The report touches on the work of almost every area of East Devon District Council and features highlights spanning the council’s year from 2014-2015, as well as the many significant achievements, which relate to the four priorities against which the council measures its performance.
Volume of housing
Writing in the annual report, East Devon’s Chief Executive Mark Williams says he is particularly pleased at the volume of local housing achieved for East Devon residents.
We have delivered 388 local homes for local people in the past year – that’s more than one house being built in East Devon every day. We are performing well against our promise to deliver local homes and there are more in the pipeline for this coming year.
He also makes reference to the June 2015 Budget announcement, which indicated a compulsory one per cent reduction on council house rents each year for the next four years, which will have a significant effect on East Devon’s finances.
As landlord of 4,245 council homes, we face a reduction in rent income of £7.9m by 2019. This may well affect our plans to further invest in the repair and improvement of tenants homes, where we have already spent £9million each year in the past two years.
In his foreword for the annual report, The Leader of the Council, Councillor Paul Diviani, writes about the difficult decisions the council has to make on behalf of East Devon residents.
Some of these decisions are not universally popular, but are commercially necessary, such as the decision to vacate our old and expensive offices in Sidmouth and move to a modern building designed for our future needs in Honiton, together with the refurbishment of Exmouth Town Hall. This will ensure we have the working practices and the funds to continue to deliver our services where and how people want them.
Improving the council’s two-way communication with its residents is a particular priority,” he adds. “So that we can develop an ongoing dialogue with residents through engagement and project voting events, as well as exploiting the use of technology such as social media and our East Devon app.
Cllr Diviani acknowledges that there is still much to do and much to achieve, but the annual report should be viewed as an opportunity to pause and reflect on the council’s successes over the past 12 months, before looking forward through the new Council Plan to what it wants to achieve over the next four years.
Highlights at East Devon District Council 2014-2015
- April 2014 – Official start to construction of Premier Inn, Exmouth’s £5m seafront hotel
- May 2014 – Poignant entries received for Chairman’s Great War competition
- August 2014 – Work begins on construction of the £4m visitor centre, Seaton Jurassic
- September 2014 – Opening of Honiton’s new and improved £90,000 skate park
- October 2014 – Council’s revenues and benefits team receives two national awards
- November 2014 – o Local primary school pupils take over East Devon District Council for the day o Launch of Strata, IT service shared with two other Devon councils.
- December 2014 – New outdoor workout zone completed at Broadclyst
- January 2015 – Council and Bicton College form countryside management partnership
- February 2015 – o Sidmouth beach protected by completion of shingle recycling project o Littleham celebrates new community orchard o East Devon District Council set the forthcoming year’s budget with its own council tax requirement of £121.78 a year, remaining frozen for the 5th year running.
- March 2015 – Full Council votes by a majority in favour of moving from Sidmouth to Honiton and Exmouth
Priority One – Living in this outstanding place
In the council plan 2012-2016, we promised to:
- Deliver more good quality, local homes for local people.
- Maintain residents’ high satisfaction with their area and home as a place to live.
Delivered highest ever number of local homes for local people in one year totalling 388. Significant number planned for delivery in 2015/16.
- Invested £9 million in the repair and improvement of tenant’s homes. Rent collection for council homes stands at 99.6% over the full year. Maintained high levels of tenant satisfaction with 90% of tenants surveyed satisfied with East Devon’s service.
- Over 1,000 homes have been occupied at Cranbrook, the fastest growth rate of any development in the UK.
- New £14m Cranbrook education campus on course to open.
- Record numbers of planning applications managed – a total of 1,221 in 2014/15.
- There have been 1000 new homes built/approved for the district.
- Council’s track record for planning appeals shows that we are making decisions in line with what the planning inspector would expect. A record number of appeals received (74) with a 77% success rate - way above the national percentage of 66%.
- Awards have been won by our Building Control and Development Management Team and we are now going forward for a National award. Best educational Building - Millwater School. Best Partnership – Paul Humphries architects
- Both the Council Tax & Business Rates Team and Housing Benefits Team were both given national awards; “Revenues Team of the Year” and “Benefits Team of the year. Both teams are maintaining top performance not only compared with other Devon Councils, but nationally.
- One Neighbourhood Plan has been adopted with our support and 32 Neighbourhood Plans are being progressed with our support.
- 84% are satisfied with the green box recycling collection
- 96% feel safe when outside in your local area in the day
- 77% feel safe when outside in your local area after dark
Priority Two – Working in this outstanding place
In the council plan 2012-2016, we promised to: Deliver a thriving, competitive local economy.
• £8m from the Regional Growth Fund has been successfully deployed including; Widening of the B3184 to serve the Airport; Phase 3 link in to Exeter; site preparation works at Skypark, paving the way for investment to flow; access road to the Met Office super computer site at the Science Park, supporting the single largest ever investment in the District.
• Secured external funding and enabled planning approval for the Met Office Super Computer infrastructure on the Science Park site. This is a £130m project of international importance that is being built in East Devon.
• Over £230k has been secured from DECC to support the establishment of an Energy Services Company to roll out further District Heating Networks.
• At Sky Park the Geo Post build out is underway and the new Emergency services centre is operational.
• Our decision to sell the seafront site and ensure a high quality hotel development is showing results for Exmouth as the new Premier Inn opened its doors and is proving popular and successful and has created 44 jobs for local people in Exmouth.
• We have secured a developer and are negotiating a major long term asset lease to provide Exmouth with a nationally known water sports centre worth £4m as part of the redevelopment of the Queen’s Drive site.
• Seaton Jurassic construction Phase One was completed in July 2015. Work has now commenced on the internal exhibition materials and an opening of the centre is planned for spring 2016.
• We have listened to our customers and continue to offer special parking offers to support local town economies.
• We continue to support and contribute to BIP to provide advice and guidance to businesses. BIP carried out 507 interventions across the district during 2014-15.
• BIP have scheduled and delivered a range of workshops in a variety of venues across the district from Axminster to Cranbrook. The workshops have covered an array of topics from basic book keeping, marketing and CAP Reform for Farmers.
• BIP have acted as delivery partners for Rural Growth Network Heart of Business support.
• 68% agreed that we are using East Devon's natural landscape and countryside to encourage more visitors and tourists to come here
• 47% agree we are doing well in delivering jobs in the west of the district
• 49% agree that we are making our towns’ better places to live by regenerating them
Priority Three – Enjoying this outstanding place
In the council plan 2012-2016, we promised to:
• Provide cultural and leisure activities accessible to all residents and visitors.
• Protect East Devon’s natural environment and its habitats and wildlife.
• Big Belly Bins have been rolled out on seafront areas helping to keep the environment clean.
• Robust Sidmouth Beach Management Plan in the pipeline - secured £100k of Environment Agency funding for beach material recycling.
• Achieved a clean bill of health from the latest Food Standards Agency audit.
• Thelma Hulbert Gallery became the “Museums at Night” competition winner and ran a very successful Matisse exhibition. The Gallery has secured grant funding and reduced its subsidy.
• Highly successful weekly summer season repertory theatre in Manor Pavilion, Sidmouth.
• Achieved two Green Flag awards for outstanding parks.
• Planning team supported the delivery of the Cranbrook Health and Wellbeing Centre.
• Homelessness and the Housing Register further reduced during the year.
• Successfully delivered and extended the Local Welfare Support scheme.
• Handy Man schemes established for council tenants.
• Ensuring a council presence at major events – Tour of Britain; Surf Life Saving championships; Festivals; County Show; Tar Barrels etc to help these run smoothly and safely.
• Worked closely with the Environment Agency to improve bathing water quality around our coast and to inform the public of the high standards that our coastal waters achieve.
• Engaged with our communities in various ways to promote their health and wellbeing at events including LifeSkills, 11 Million Take out day, and Housing Awareness days.
• Completed a successful first year trial of an in-house pest control and dog warden service, which has now become permanent.
• Community Orchard planted in Littleham, Exmouth.
• Participating in the Naturally Healthy Devon Schools project to help promote the health benefits of learning in the natural environment and to build the confidence of school aged children, teachers and parents in being “naturally active”.
• Developed a partnership with River Cottage by offering customers the opportunity of corporate away day events on Trinity Hill LNR and Seaton Wetlands and the opportunity to work with Countryside Rangers on Park Farm by undertaking practical habitat management tasks.
• Appointed a Cranbrook Country Park Ranger officer.
• Funding secured for Art in the Exe project from National England to support Green Infrastructure Delivery.
• New Habitat Mitigation Officer recruited, the first example of a post being funded by East Devon, Exeter City and Teignbridge Councils.
• Continued to work with communities to deliver high quality play spaces using Section 106 monies. Residents’ feedback
• 79% of people were satisfied with parks, public garden, play areas and open spaces
• 87% were satisfied with the food hygiene service feeling confident about eating in cafes and restaurants in the district
Priority Four – Outstanding council
In the council plan 2012-2016, we promised to:
• Make efficiencies – both financial, time saving and in service resilience.
• Invest in new technology; keeping it simple for our customers through good use of web and mobile technology.
• In 2014/15 when customers contacted our Corporate Customer Service Centre we asked them “Based on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being very good and 1 being very poor, how satisfied were you with the customer services department?”, we received an average score of 9.7!
• Delivered new website with fresh content and better search facilities making information easier to find using principles developed by the award winning website of gov.uk.
• Identified over 350 online services to build across all service areas through our Open for Business website project. This will allow more customers to self serve.
• Our mobile officers now have the right mobile devices helping to facilitate efficient working when away from the office.
• Increased the number of people using our smart phone app.
• Licensing Service maintained their Customer Service Excellence accreditation through 2014/15.
• Gained the South West Charter for Member Development (Charter Plus Standard) in April 2014.
• Offered seven apprenticeships within the council to help demonstrate the value of these to other businesses.
• Developed Transformation Strategy, outlining key strategic themes and key actions to help mitigate the impact of reductions in government funding over the next five years.
• Put in place training for 25 officers in systems thinking so that we can continue with our progress in redesigning all major frontline services using systems thinking principles.
• Procured and commenced implementation of a comprehensive housing management system, to provide a single view of our customers, enable mobile working, and give tenants and contractors the facility to interact with us online.
• 71% were satisfied with the way we run things
• 66% said that we provide value for money
• 79% felt that they were kept informed by us
• 56% agree that we respond quickly when asked for help
East Devon District Council accounts and budgets for its finance in three separate areas:
- General Fund Services – A balanced gross general fund budget of £70.4m was set for 2014/2015 in order to run the council’s services.
- Housing Revenue Account (HRA) – The HRA account relates to the Council’s landlord function for running its Council houses, this had a gross budget set for 2014/2015 of £17.7m and was set to achieve an estimated surplus of £1.065m for the year for future investment.
- Capital Expenditure – The expenditure for capital items in the year was £18.786m, £5.740m of this was spent on council housing and fully funded from housing monies.
Expenditure for the year was maintained within the budgets set for these areas and details of spending and variations against individual budget areas are contained in an Outturn report presented to the Council’s Cabinet meeting in June with details available on our Website.