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More funding for vulnerable children and adults, We’re listening, Let’s connect for children’s mental health week, celebrating apprenticeships, Unclaimed energy vouchers, and it’s nearly half-term week

There will be increases of 18.4 per cent in spending on children’s services and 8.8 per cent on adult services to keep up with a rocketing rise in demand

Budget boost to fund vital services for vulnerable children and adults

Our Cabinet is proposing a 10.5 per cent increase in our budget to fund vital services for the most vulnerable children and adults, as well as more cash to tackle potholes.

There will be increases of 18.4 per cent in spending on children’s services and 8.8 per cent on adult services to keep up with a rocketing rise in demand.

And since the target budget was set last month, we have allocated an extra £2 million to tackle the increase in potholes caused by this winter’s icy spells and torrential rainfall.

Council Leader, Councillor John Hart said:

“We fully recognise the strain that household budgets are under with soaring inflation and big rises in the cost of living.

“But we must look after the young, the old and the vulnerable and they account for some 79 per cent of this budget.”

The cost of living and geopolitical situation has created huge financial pressures national. Consequently, we have faced unprecedented price and demand pressures in the current year and although significant savings have been found to offset this, many have been one off measures.

“It has been a very difficult budget to deliver but we’ve asked how can we make council taxpayers’ money work better for them and cut wastage in the system, and the savings strategies are tough but realistic,” says our Cabinet Member for Finance, Councillor Phil Twiss.

Read for the full story on our website.

We’re listening, as parents and carers voice frustration with children’s services

Parents delivered us a strong message this week in protest over failings within services that support children who have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Members of the Devon SEND Parents and Carers for Change (DSPCC) group shared their experiences, and delivered a letter.

“We feel increasingly frustrated by the continual and relentless institutional failings evident within Devon County Council’s Children’s Services,” they wrote.

“We all have individually raised our concerns, whether that was to a professional, a SEND caseworker, or by making a formal complaint to Devon County Council. Again and again, these concerns go unheeded. Calls and emails ignored. Complaints disregarded.”

Julian Wooster, our Interim Director of Children’s Services, and Donna Manson, who will begin her new role as our Chief Executive later this month, took time this week to meet, listen and talk to many of the parents.

“We accept that there have been significant problems across the whole system in Devon and that the experience of many parents has not been good,” said Julian.

Councillor Andrew Leadbetter says extra resources have been identified in our budget to strengthen our SEND casework team and to help us compete with other local authorities to recruit and retain experienced staff.  “But,” he said, “we know that this won’t be easy and there are no quick fixes.”

Read the full story on our website

Let’s connect for Children’s Mental Health Week

This week is Children’s Mental Health Week, and we’ve been shining a light on the topic to encourage all of us to talk more about young people’s mental health.

It’s normal for children and young people to experience worry, stress or anxiety, and it’s important to know that talking about it is good.

Sometimes though, it’s hard to spot the signs that someone you know is struggling with anxiety or stress, and hard then to know what you can do to help.

But there are signs if you know what to look for, and there is lots of advice and support to help you have those conversations.

We published a special Children’s Mental Health Week bulletin this week, packed with information and advice to help parents, carers and young people.

Even if you think it’s not immediately relevant to you, it’s worth a read because there’s possibly information in it that all parents and carers of children and young people can benefit from learning.

Celebrating apprenticeships

This week has also been National Apprenticeship Week, which brings together businesses and apprentices across the county to celebrate the positive impact that apprenticeships make to individuals, businesses and the wider economy.

The Government has said that young people will be able to use the University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) to search and apply for apprenticeships, alongside degrees. UCAS will be expanding their service so that young people can see apprenticeship options to apply for alongside an undergraduate degree application. Visit the UCAS website for more information.

We’ve had over 300 apprentices join our organisation since 2017, through our Step In apprenticeship scheme. We offer a highly competitive starting salary, generous holiday allowance, flexible working arrangements, training and development.

All our apprenticeship opportunities are advertised on the Devon jobs website, and we advertise through the National Apprenticeship Service.

We also offer ring-fenced apprenticeship opportunities for care leavers. Our Step Forward Employability Programme aims to support care leavers to increase their employability by gaining, developing and increasing their skills, experience and qualifications. 

Find out more about what it is like to be an apprentice with us, and where it can take you in your future career, on our website.

National Lottery funding for Coronation events

Last week, we encouraged those of you who may want to organise a street party to mark the Coronation of His Majesty The King, to apply as soon as possible for any road closure you may need.

Meanwhile, community groups are also being encouraged to apply for lottery funding, ahead of the Coronation weekend in May. Funding is available of up to £10,000 for events and activities through the National Lottery Awards for All programme.

National Lottery Awards for All does not have a deadline, but it can take up to 12 weeks from the point of application submission to receiving funding, which means applications for the Coronation weekend should be made before the middle of February.

More details, including all funding criteria and terms and conditions, are on the National Lottery Awards for All website.

Millions-worth of energy vouchers left unclaimed

The BBC reported this week that £50 million of Government support for energy has so far gone unclaimed by some of the most vulnerable people.

Most homes in England, Scotland and Wales pay their energy bill by direct debit, and they’ve been getting about £66 a month deducted from their bills or credited to their account automatically.

But households on traditional pre-payment meters for their gas or electricity have been receiving vouchers in the post or via email. Those vouchers need to be taken to a local PayPoint store or Post Office to be credited onto a meter.

Data seen by the BBC showed that about 380,000 vouchers, totalling up to 19 per cent of homes – that’s nearly one in every five – were not redeemed each month in October and in November.

Citizens Advice say the main reason for people not cashing an energy voucher is because they haven’t received it yet.

Although the deadline has passed, the BBC report that it is still possible for the voucher money to be claimed. A person who has not received their voucher, or has not cashed it in time, needs to contact their energy supplier, check that their contact details are correct, and ask for the voucher to be reissued to them.

Also announced this week, households that don’t use mains gas for heating will start receiving £200 towards their energy bills as the Alternative Fuel Payment scheme launches.

Most will get the money automatically credited on their electricity bill, but some customers will need to apply for the support later in the month.

Devon work hubs invite businesses in to network

Devon’s work hubs have been inviting local business communities into their coworking spaces this week to meet and network with other like-minded business leaders, freelancers, self-employed people and hybrid workers.

It’s because this week, it’s been International Networking Week, to encourage businesses to connect and build their networking skills in order to grow their businesses.

“Coworking spaces are invaluable to people looking to build their business network,” says Stacey Sheppard, founder of The Tribe, a coworking space for female entrepreneurs in Totnes.

“Coworking spaces bring together people from all different industries and all different stages of their careers.”

Many work hubs in Devon organise business and social events that encourage their members to network.

It’s not uncommon that members of coworking spaces end up collaborating on projects or working together in one way or another.

You can read more about collaborations that have come from sharing work space with others, in the story on our news page.

New initiatives help us to avoid post-Covid emissions ‘bounceback’

The latest data shows that we are still ahead of schedule in our goal of becoming a net-zero authority by 2030. And that fears that we would see a post-pandemic ‘bounce back’ in our carbon emissions, have so far proved unfounded.

Newly published figures show that we’re ahead of target to reach a 70 per cent reduction by 2030, with the remainder of our emissions to be offset, for instance, through tree planting schemes.

You can read more about our progress in the news story on our website.

Last call for the COVID-19 booster

People eligible for a COVID-19 booster have until this Sunday to come forward before the autumn programme ends.

They include people over the age of 50, those with long-term health conditions, pregnant women and health and social care staff.

Sunday 12 February is the last day of the autumn booster campaign and will also be the final day that 16 to 49-year-olds, who are not considered at risk, will be able to get a booster, following updated advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at the UK Health Security Agency, said this week:

“Thank you to the millions of people who have come forward for a jab to help protect themselves and others from severe illness and hospitalisation.

If you are yet to get a booster that you are eligible for, you should book yours now.”

Everyone eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination can book either online, via the NHS App or by calling 119.

You can also find a walk-in vaccination site, where no appointments are necessary.

It’s the half-term holidays next week!

With the holidays ahead, don’t forget the amazing county that we live in! Coastlines, National Parks, incredible landscape and heritage including five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a UNESCO Bisphere Reserve, and fascinating towns and villages, all to visit on our relative doorstep.

For ideas to help you enjoy some of the best of what Devon has to offer, visit our Explore Devon website where you’ll find suggestions for walking, cycling, wildlife and places to visit. 

And right now, why not let others do the driving! Bus passengers in Devon can take advantage of a cap on bus fares, with bus users paying no more than £2 for a single journey, throughout February and March.

For more information and for great travel ideas for how to get around in Devon, visit our Travel Devon website. 

The weather’s not looking bad next week either, but in any weather, our local Devon libraries have a lot to offer. Find out what’s happening at your nearest library on the Libraries Unlimited website.