Half term gives me a chance to spend good quality time in Teignbridge getting to grips with local challenges and problems, some of which are unique to us, and others which we share with many rural communities up and down the country. The week was a productive one, talking with both the police and the fire service, retailers in Newton Abbot, a housing association and our local work and pensions team, and of course a busy surgery.
Blue Light Services
Rural areas like ours face manpower and geographical challenges delivering emergency services. Working together police, fire, and ambulance services can deliver what we need, supporting each other in skills and availability. Cornwall are ahead of the game here. They have been piloting a tri-service force, where an individual in a rural community is able to provide broad support advising on fire prevention, dealing with local crime and acting as a first responder in an emergency. In Devon we have a combined police and fire scheme, which is already delivering good results. However, there are significant barriers which make collaboration difficult. Different pay structures, different budgets and different reporting lines don’t help.
Chief Superintendent Matt Longman, came to introduce himself, having only recently been appointed to lead and manage the South Devon force. We both came up with a very similar list of issues that we need to address, including effective blue light services, tackling violent crime which is on the rise, sorting out the gang culture and knife crime, the growing involvement of young people in drug crime, like county lines, and the challenge of supporting individuals with mental health problems or with learning difficulties who are particularly vulnerable, sometimes with fatal results. More police officers are being trained as we speak, and as officer apprentices, their journey to the front line is reasonably short. Fortunately, these roles are attracting lots of applicants, who will in time not only be fully trained but have a degree.
Westward Housing Association were a pleasure to meet. As a charity they develop, provide and manage housing for the most vulnerable in our society, either as affordable housing (20% discount to market rent), social housing (even lower rent for those who even working cannot afford a so called affordable rent). They can only do this because of government grants and a real vocation to see this housing provided. I was horrified to discover our ratio of wages to house prices was one of the worst in the country.
We had a very detailed discussion about what needs to change in the system to deliver a fairer and more accessible housing market. First local authorities need to be able to say no to developments that do not meet our housing need. We do not need exclusively executive homes. We also talked about steps that might be taken to take some of the sales gain accruing to an owner and a developer’s profit and ring fence this for infrastructure and social housing.
Our town centres
Use it or lose it. We all have a key role to play in keeping our town centres alive and vibrant. Shop local! But the government has a key role to play and sorting out business rates is one of them. Too much chat – not enough action, was one comment. From April 2020, the government will introduce a new 2% digital services tax on the revenues of search engines, social media platforms and online marketplaces which derive value from UK users. This will be a much welcome start to levelling the playing field between high street and online retail. But of course, there is much more to do than that and these are all issues I shall be taking to our new ministers after half term!
My next surgery is in Teignmouth on Friday 6th March (1-3pm). Please call my office on 01626 368277 to arrange an appointment.