Review of 2015 to 2016 shows council is continually striving to improve and fulfil the promises it made in the council plan

Despite a severe decline in funding for local authorities, combined with inflationary increases, low investment income and an increasing pressure on its services, East Devon District Council has, as detailed in its annual report for 2015-2016, delivered the promises it made in its 2012-2016 Council Plan.

Some tough decisions have had to be made by the council in order to fulfil its commitments, but already some of these resolutions have borne or are bearing fruit. The council’s dynamic five-year Transformation Strategy is ensuring that through annual reviews and updates the council is able to track progress and ensuring that savings are made. This is being achieved by changing the way the council works, using new strategies, online services, maximising assets through commercial thinking and actively pursuing alternative methods of service delivery.

Keeping a steady hand on the tiller will be essential and the strategic themes of the Transformation Strategy will help keep everyone in the council focused on guiding human and financial resources in the right direction.

Fulfilling promises

Commenting on the 2015-2016 Annual Report, East Devon District Council’s Chief Executive, Mark Williams, said:

The council continually strives to find ways to work more efficiently, improve performance and deliver customer excellence. We work hard to ensure that the council delivers its services in a variety of ways to suit the needs of all our customers – whether this is on the phone, at our offices, at surgeries across the district or through our website.

This annual report touches on the work of almost every area of our council, telling you what we do every day. I am very proud of the work that we carry out and the fact that we have fulfilled the promises we made in our Council Plan 2012-2016. I would particularly like to mention some of our outstanding achievements such as the fantastic new visitor attraction, Seaton Jurassic, which has already attracted over 20,000 visitors and provided a big boost to the town. Cranbrook has continued to grow and develop as a community and our latest annual community poll showed that 88% of respondents felt that Cranbrook was a good place to live.

Finally, following successful trials that produced an increase in participating households recycling rates, we will next year be rolling out a new recycling and waste scheme, which will include cardboard and mixed plastics – as requested by the residents of East Devon.

Improving communication

In his foreword for the annual report, Councillor Paul Diviani, the Leader of East Devon District Council said:

Sometimes we have to make decisions that are for the best, but which are not universally popular, such as the proposal to leave our old expensive offices in Sidmouth and move to a modern, fit-for-purpose building in Honiton, as well as the refurbishment of Exmouth Town Hall. This will ensure that we have the working practices and funds to continue delivering on our services.

We want to provide the services you want at a price we can all afford and to continue to improve two-way communication so that an ongoing dialogue can be developed with our residents through a variety of mechanisms, such as engagement and project voting events and by exploiting the use of technology such as social media and our much acclaimed East Devon App.

There is still much to do and much to achieve but this annual report is an opportunity to pause and reflect on our successes. Not only over the past 12 months but through the life of our previous Council Plan before looking forward through our new Council Plan to all that we want to achieve over the next four years.

Highlights at East Devon District Council 2015 to 2016

  • April 2015 – Premier Inn construction begins in Honiton – planning permission sought for new 75-bed hotel in Seaton
  • May 2015 – General and local elections held in East Devon – Conservatives retain control of East Devon District Council
  • June 2015 – Council reaffirms commitment to new and refurbished offices in Honiton and Exmouth
  • August 2015 – Connaught Gardens and Manor Gardens Exmouth awarded green flag status
  • September 2015 – Excellent start to new recycling trials in new Feniton and The Colony, Exmouth
  • October 2015 – Cranbrook wins two Inside Housing awards for sustainability and overall best project of the year
  • November 2015 – East Devon’s bathing waters are declared cleaner than ever
  • December 2015 – Cranbrook railway station opens
  • January 2016 – New local plan for East Devon officially adopted
  • February 2016 – Council retains Gold Investors in People award for second time
  • March 2016 – New Seaton Jurassic Visitor Centre opens

Priority one – Living in this outstanding place

In the Council Plan 2012-2016 the council promised to deliver more good quality, local homes for local people and to maintain residents’ high satisfaction with living in East Devon. Key achievements were:

  • Between 2012 and 2016 the council has built 3,381 new homes
  • Delivered 997 affordable homes
  • Delivered 13 affordable rural housing schemes
  • Invested £34 million in repairing and improving tenants’ homes
  • Achieved the adoption of the new East Devon Local Plan (in 2016)
  • Become the district with the highest number of designated Neighbourhood Planning Areas in the country – East Devon now has 38 Neighbourhood Plans
  • East Devon is well ahead of the national average (66%) for winning planning appeals – we have won 78% of appeals against planning decisions made by East Devon as the Local Planning Authority
  • 91% of East Devon sheltered housing tenants and 88% of general needs tenants were satisfied with the overall housing service

Priority two – Working in this outstanding place

Delivering a thriving, competitive local economy was East Devon’s promise in the 2012-2016 Council Plan. Key achievements were:

  • The council has led on the redevelopment of Exmouth and Seaton, with the result that Exmouth has its new Premier Inn hotel, which created 44 jobs that weren’t previously there, work has started on the Mamhead slipway and much work has gone into the future development of Queen’s Drive
  • Seaton’s Jurassic Centre, which East Devon co-funded and supported, has already proved a vibrant and successful visitor attraction, giving the town a much needed boost, as has the redevelopment of Chine Cafe
  • East Devon has achieved planning permission for 21 new build workshops on council owned land in Seaton
  • Plans are underway for the regeneration of Sidmouth, Honiton and Port Royal
  • Over 100 new businesses have been starting up in East Devon every year since 2012
  • The council has invested in improvements to the East Devon Business Centre in Honiton, which has led to a dramatic increase in tenancies at the centre
  • East Devon’s economic development team has helped secure a new Exeter and Heart of Devon £100,000 business support service
  • The council has been vigorously supporting the growth of superfast broadband in East Devon and there is now an anticipated 90% coverage of premises by December 2016

Priority three – Enjoying this outstanding place

In the 2012-2016 Council Plan East Devon promised to provide cultural and leisure activities that are accessible to all residents and visitors, as well as to protect the district’s natural environment and wildlife. Key achievements were:

  • The much celebrated Seaton Jurassic visitor centre has greatly exceeded expectations for visitor numbers and provides visitors with a unique interactive journey through time
  • Mamhead slipway is due to be completed and will enable water users from both Exmouth and further afield to launch their water crafts safely
  • East Devon’s parks and gardens continue to win awards – Connaught Gardens in Sidmouth and Manor Gardens in Exmouth both received the Green Flag Award (for the 10th time in ten years!)
  • Sidmouth’s Manor Pavilion theatre has had sell out summer seasons for the past four years and in 2014 benefitted from £90,000 worth of improvements
  • East Devon commenced successful recycling trials in September 2015 in Exmouth (The Colony) and new Feniton and increased the recycling rate from 40% to 60% and reduced the waste rate from 60% to 40% - the new service, which enables residents to recycle cardboard, mixed plastics and Tetra Paks will now be rolled out across the district during 2017
  • The Exe Estuary and Pebblebed Heaths will be protected from the impact of new developments thanks to the appointment of a Habitats Regulations Delivery Officer and robust partnership working
  • The Seaton Wetlands has been sensitively enhanced with a number of new improvements, including a new visitor centre and better access

Priority four – An outstanding council

The council promised to make itself more efficient – both financially an in the way its services performs, as well as to invest in new technology and ensuring good use of web and mobile technology. Key achievements were:

  • The council reviewed all its website content, including major customer transactions to seek increased opportunities for customers to interact with it online
  • Over the past four years the council has taken on ten apprentices across a range of its services, which has helped demonstrate to other businesses the value of employing young people
  • East Devon has provided comprehensive HR support for the new ICT service Strata, which is shared between East Devon, Exeter and Teignbridge
  • Through its Viewpoint surveys, the council has asked its customers for their views on the services at East Devon and how they can improve. The feedback has been incorporated into action plans that were created to address any issues. In other words, the council listens to the views of its residents and then acts on the information it receives
  • The 2020 Vision Transformation Strategy that the council delivered is preparing it for continued reductions in government funding. As part of this strategy, East Devon is progressively reviewing its assets – from car parks to social clubs and even beach huts - to find ways of best maximising its asset portfolio
  • Work has continued on the council’s complex relocation to Honiton and Exmouth, which will result in savings to the council (and taxpayers) of £6 million
  • For the second time, the council has achieved Investors in People Gold and 93% of staff have said they would recommend East Devon as an employer

Financial overview

During the life of the Council Plan 2012–16 the most significant impact on the council’s finances came from the comprehensive spending review in 2010 and following spending reviews where the government has cut local authorities’ funding as part of its programme in tackling national debt.

From 2010/11 to 2015 / 16 there has been a 55% reduction in the main government grant received by the council to support services, from £7.030m to £3.164m. This decline in funding for local authorities has continued into the next spending review period for 2016/17 onwards. In addition to government spending cuts, there is the added pressure of inflationary increases, continued low investment income, an increasing call on services, members’ ambitions to enhance and improve services, and the wish to keep to moderate increases in Council Tax and other fees and charges.

Against this financial background, the council has delivered its spending plans and Council Plan outcomes through careful financial management and planning ahead.