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Grave budget warning issued by Leader; support for households using prepayment meters free holiday activities with hot meals available for Christmas holidays

Grave budget warning issued by Leader

We’ve been talking a lot about money this week, and the financial black hole that we and many UK councils are facing.

In fact, the Leader of our Council, Councillor John Hart, described our financial situation as “never having been so bleak”.

Our growing deficit is due to surging demand for care and support, continuing costs of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the dramatic rise in costs and inflation.

We have to save about £73 million from our budget this financial year – we’ve budgeted to save about half that so far and need to find the rest – and we’re projecting another £75 million savings needed next financial year.

You can read more about this in the story on our news page.

We also published a special edition of this newsletter earlier this week to provide more context to what this situation means. If you missed it, you can read it online. 

Or you can watch a short video on our YouTube channel.

Warning of loan sharks as households turn to lending money to pay the bills

Sky News published a story this week, drawing on findings from an Ipsos poll that found that more than a quarter of people are using credit to buy food, and a fifth have borrowed money in order to pay their rising bills.

Borrowing from reputable sources is one thing, but people resorting to borrowing from back-street lenders and loan sharks is something very different, and concerning.

“As costs of living rise and household budgets are stretched, and with many having to choose between heating and eating, you can understand the temptation to take up loans to see you through,” said Steve Gardiner, from our Trading Standards service.

“But please don’t. Illegal money lenders exploit financial difficulties to lock their victims into a cycle of debt.”

You can read more about this in the story on our news page, where you will find links to further advice.

New speech and language courses to help young children catch up after COVID-19

The reverberations of the COVID-19 pandemic are still being felt, as experts say many children and young people are struggling with their speech and language development.

Research last year suggested that measures taken to address the pandemic deprived young children of social contact and opportunities that would normally have helped develop their vocabulary.

Speech and language experts in Devon have heard from parents concerned that their young children are taking their first words, or articulating their first sentences, later than might previously have been expected.

So, a team has worked together with parents to develop a programme of new speech, language and communication courses and resources for parents and carers of young children to help them support their child’s development.

You can read more about the programme, called ‘the way we talk’, in the story on our news page.

Free holiday activities with hot meals available for Christmas holidays

School holidays can be particularly difficult for some families because of increased costs, such as food, especially now, when costs of living are so high and rising.

So, we’ve arranged a programme of funded holiday-time activities, with hot meals, to run for up to four days over the Christmas 2022 school holiday.

There are loads of activities to choose from, from cooking and craft, sports and coaching, outdoor and forest play, music and dance, and more.

All children are eligible, although priority will be given to children aged five to 16-years-old (or four-year-olds if in reception) who are eligible for and receiving benefit-related free school meals.

You can find out more about the programme in the news story on our website.

Support for households using prepayment meters

More households using prepayment meters are struggling to pay their energy bills, according to Citizens Advice Devon. The charity has confirmed an increase in the number of calls they’re receiving from prepayment meter households, regarding rising costs of energy.

While prepayment meters are said to be good at helping people budget their finances, users of them often end up paying more for their gas or electricity.

Citizen’s Advice Devon say that the increasing number of calls they’re receiving is a reflection of the increase in households using prepayment meters. And because energy providers often move households on to prepayment meters when they are struggling to pay their energy bills, it’s a reflection that more households are struggling financially.

We’re concerned. We’re continuing to provide Citizens Advice Devon with money from the Government’s Household Support Fund which enables the charity to provide financial support to households that are using prepayment meters.

Farm innovation event aims to help agriculture in Devon

The first in a series of free events organised through the newly formed Devon Agri-Tech Alliance will be held on Friday 18 November.

The Alliance is set up to help make innovation more accessible for Devon’s agriculture sector, by connecting farmers and other agricultural businesses, with agri-tech developers and research organisations.

The first event will be held at a farm near Cullompton on Friday 18 November, and it’ll be an opportunity for agricultural businesses to hear about new technological opportunities and innnovative ways of working.

You can read more about this in the story on our news page.

Remember, remember the 5th of November!

Everyone wants bonfire night to go with a bang, but for the right reasons! However you’re celebrating, it’s important to stay safe.

The best thing to do is go to a professional firework display. They’re safer because they are run by experts. They’re also better for the environment because one big display with lots of people watching is better than lots of tiny displays as it minimises smoke and chemical emissions. Organisers properly clean up the day after, so there aren’t any dead firework remnants left behind to harm wildlife. They’re also cheaper than organising your own display, as well as more impressive, so it’s a win win!

If you do buy your own fireworks, make sure they’re only from licenced retailers. Read and understand the safety instructions and dispose of used fireworks safely by soaking them in water before putting them in the bin.

If you’re having a bonfire, be careful what you put on it. Only burn untreated wood (not wood that’s been painted or varnished) and garden waste. Don’t forget to check for hedgehogs and other critters before you set light to it!

Protect yourself and those you care for

People working in frontline health and care jobs in Devon are being urged to have the COVID-19 autumn booster and flu vaccination to protect themselves and the people they care for.

Existing COVID-19 vaccinations do not protect against two highly transmissible new variants which are currently circulating. We are also seeing a sharp rise in the number of people requiring hospital admission across the UK and an increase in the number of health and care workers absent due to COVID-19.

Health experts have also warned that this is likely to be a bad flu season, due to lockdowns causing people to be less immune to this year’s flu virus. Like COVID-19, flu can be life-threatening. It’s easy to pass flu on without knowing, even if you feel well and have no symptoms.

If you are a frontline health and care worker you can book a COVID-19 vaccination appointment via the National Booking System or go to a walk in clinic. 

Flu vaccinations can be booked via your GP or a local pharmacy.

Housing order to be introduced on Monday 7 November to help stop the spread of bird flu

The Government has announced that anyone who keeps birds is legally required to house them indoors from Monday 7 November and follow stringent biosecurity measures to help protect their flocks from avian influenza (bird flu).

The order applies regardless of type or size of the flock, from large businesses, and small holders to people who keep a few bird in their garden.

It’s because over the last year, the UK has faced its largest ever outbreak of bird flu, with over 200 cases confirmed since late October 2021. The introduction of the housing measures comes after the disease was detected at over 70 premises since the beginning of October, as well as multiple reports in wild birds.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) continue to advise that the risk to public health from the virus is very low, but people should not touch or pick up any dead or visibly sick birds that they find. 

The Food Standards Agency advice remains unchanged, that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers and that properly cooked poultry and poultry products, including eggs, are safe to eat. 

You can find out more about avian influenza on the Government’s website.