Exeter Labour Manifesto
Exeter City Council 2018-19
Like the rest of the public sector, local authorities continue to face significant cuts to their funding thanks to ongoing Tory austerity. In 2010/11, Exeter City Council received over £12million in revenue funding from the Government. By 2020/21 it will receive less than £5.5million.
Exeter City Council has the 4th lowest district council tax in the country and receives less than £2.80 per household per week towards its services, which include a mixture of statutory and discretionary functions:
- Advice Services (including Housing & Benefits Advice)
- Communities (including Community Development, Facilities and Grants)
- Economic Development (including Business Support and Skills)
- Heritage, Culture & Arts (including RAMM, the Corn Exchange and Arts grants)
- Homelessness Support (including Outreach and Prevention)
- Parks & Open Spaces (including Play Areas, Valley Parks and Waterways)
- Regulatory Services (including Planning, Licensing and Environmental Health)
- Street Cleaning (including Graffiti, Fly Tipping and Dog Fouling)
- Tourism (including Visit Exeter and Tourist Information)
- Waste Collection (including Household Waste, Recycling, and Trade Waste)
The City Council also has a capital budget, funded through money from developments, the sale of unneeded assets, and borrowing. This money can be used to invest in one-off capital projects, such as new buildings and major improvements to public spaces and community facilities, but cannot be used to support day-to-day services or general maintenance of facilities or public spaces.
The City Council will need to make significant further savings between now and 2021. This will mean making very difficult decisions about services, while also finding funding to invest in public spaces, community facilities and housing. However, we also believe that Exeter City Council can and must do more, working with partners, to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing our city.
- The Housing Challenge: build more affordable homes and create sustainable neighbourhoods.
- The Congestion Challenge: reduce congestion to improve air quality and access to education, jobs, services and leisure.
- The Healthy Communities Challenge: improve health outcomes and reduce health inequalities across our communities by increasing physical activity and reducing isolation.
The Housing Challenge
Under Labour, Exeter City Council has built dozens of new council houses since 2011 and has secured hundreds more social and affordable homes from developers through our planning policy, which is one of the strictest in the country.
Social rented housing is let at the lowest rents by councils and housing associations to those who are most in need. A typical weekly rent for a 2-bedroom City Council flat is currently £75.85, which is 10% less than the equivalent housing association home and 55% less than the equivalent private rented home.
Affordable rented housing is more expensive than social rented housing but less expensive than private rented. The Tory-Lib Dem Coalition defined ‘affordable rent’ as 80% of local market rates and restricted funding for new social-rented homes. As a result, the majority of local authorities no longer require developers to build any social-rented homes and only require them to build ‘affordable’ homes.
Thanks to Labour, Exeter City Council was singled out for praise by the Homes and Communities Agency for protecting the delivery of new social housing. We require a quarter of all developments over 10 houses to be social-rented and a further 10% to be available for shared ownership.
Exeter Labour Group remains committed to building more council homes and construction is currently underway on Chester Long Court; 26 high-quality, low energy council apartments for over 60s in Whipton.
However, we face some big challenges. In 2016 the Tory Government imposed a council rent cut of 1% per year for four years. This saves City Council tenants less than £1 per week but slashed £8million from our budget for building new council houses. Finding funding to build more homes will therefore be one of our main priorities.
The Congestion Challenge
Congestion in Exeter is one of the most common issues raised by residents and businesses. As well as causing inconvenience, congestion makes buses less efficient, makes it more expensive for people to access work, education and other services, contributes to poor air quality in some parts of the city, and puts people off cycling due to safety concerns.
Devon County Council is the highways and transport authority and has delivered some important infrastructure, such as the new stations at Newcourt and Cranbrook. However, they have been reluctant to commit to the kind of investment that Exeter really needs to reduce congestion.
However, Exeter is already doing well compared to many other cities:*
- The majority of Exeter residents (55%) do not drive to work
- Exeter has the 4th highest proportion of residents who walk to work (22%)
- Exeter has one of the highest proportions of residents who use public transport
- Exeter has good rates of cycling compared to similar cities, although still significantly less than Cambridge, Oxford and York.
- Contrary to perception, between 2005 and 2015 traffic levels were flat or fell on nearly all routes
- Air quality has improved significantly across the city, probably due to cleaner vehicles
*Data from Devon County Council
So far Exeter has done reasonably well in limiting increases in car trips compared to population growth, however we will need to do much more to avoid future increases in traffic and will need big changes if we want to start reducing congestion, including new infrastructure, behavioural change, innovation and better partnership working.
As Exeter City Council is not the transport authority, we cannot deliver many improvements on our own but we can work with Devon County Council and others and use our influence to put pressure on them to deliver the changes we need.
The Healthy Communities Challenge
We want all our communities to be healthy and happy. Despite having very low unemployment rates, some of Exeter’s neighbourhoods are in the most deprived 20% nationally, including parts of St Davids, Newtown, Wonford, Whipton and Beacon Heath. Exeter also has areas with a high risk of loneliness, even if they are not particularly deprived, including parts of Heavitree and Countess Wear.
Residents in the most deprived areas have a life expectancy of five to ten years less than those in the least deprived areas and tend to experience chronic ill-health 10 to 15 years earlier. For example, a resident of Collins Road in Pennsylvania has a life expectancy of 89.5 years while a resident of Mount Pleasant has a life expectancy of 72 years. There is also a close link between deprivation and poor mental health.
Increasing physical activity is now understood to be one of the key ways of improving a wide range of physical and mental health outcomes, and it can also play a big role in helping to build stronger communities and reduce loneliness. Under Labour, Exeter City Council committed to making Exeter the most active city in the South West and, by working with a wide range of partners including Active Devon, we achieved that goal in 2015. We are now committed to a longer-term goal to make Exeter the most active city in the country.
Last year, Exeter was one of 12 places to win a share of £100million from Sport England to help people become more physically active. This money will make a major difference to improving physical activity in Exeter. The strength of existing partnerships and political leadership were among the reasons that the bid was successful, as well as the innovative work that the City Council is doing with Exeter City Futures and others.
We will continue our commitment to building new homes.
We will lobby the Government to remove the unreasonable and illogical cap on borrowing for housing so that we can build more homes, more quickly. If the Government continues to ignore local councils, we will complete work on plans for a council-owned building company to build high quality homes for sale or rent and use the profits to build more affordable homes.
We will continue to deliver the Joint Exeter and Teignbridge Homelessness Strategy to tackle rough sleeping and other forms of homelessness.
We will prevent student development on council-owned land and review the student accommodation planning policy.
We will propose, through our representatives on the Exeter Highways and Traffic Orders committee, a plan for improvements to pedestrian access at priority locations across the city and the adoption of a comprehensive cycle network plan for Exeter.
We will continue to support the roll-out of the electric bike network through the Planning System and all other available means.
We will invite local bus companies and other interested groups to work with us to design the best possible commercially viable network of bus routes that meets the needs of Exeter’s residents and commuters, using all available travel data.
We will lobby Devon County Council to ask the Secretary of State for the power to franchise bus services, as allowed under Section 4 of the Bus Services Act 2017. This would allow Devon County Council to “Identify the local services that they consider appropriate to be provided in an area under local service contracts”.
We will campaign for the Government to repeal Section 22 of the Bus Services Act 2017, which prohibits councils from setting up new bus companies.
We will continue to support the delivery of the new Marsh Barton train station.
We will continue to lobby for improvements to local, regional and intercity rail services as well as supporting the campaign for improvements to the Dawlish train line and for a new railway line to Plymouth and Cornwall.
We will progress work on the new bus station.
We will review Exeter City Council’s own Green Travel Plan and aim to become an exemplar in sustainable travel by 2020.
We will continue to deliver the new Leisure Centre and produce a new investment plan to improve our other leisure centres, with a focus on the areas of highest need as part of our strategy to reduce health inequalities.
We will offer free swimming lessons to all children before they finish primary school under the new leisure contract.
We will increase investment in our play areas and work with children, young people and families to decide how the money is spent.
We will use our multi-million pound Sport England funding to enable more people to live active lives in Exeter and reduce health inequalities by supporting those least likely to take part in physical activity.
We will complete the Air Quality Action Plan consultation and implement the outcomes in the final plan.
We will continue to invest in renewable energy, energy efficiency and recycling projects, to build on our success in reducing the City Council’s carbon footprint by a third since 2012.
We will continue to work with Exeter City Futures and others to stimulate and support innovative solutions to Exeter’s biggest challenges.
We will implement the Exeter Youth Strategy for a Young-People Friendly City, where young people’s views and heard and responded to.
We will continue to invest in community development and community-led projects.
We will continue to invest in arts and culture and recognise the benefits that they bring to our communities, economy, education and wellbeing.
We will continue to support and expand the City Council’s apprenticeship programme introduced by Labour.
We will continue to increase minimum staff pay in line with the Real Living Wage and will continue to lobby the Government for a fully-funded pay rise for local government employees.