Council leader calls Government 'incompetent' and warns of 'winter of discontent'

Barnstaple town centre (Inset: North Devon Council leader David Worden)

Barnstaple town centre (Inset: North Devon Council leader David Worden) - Credit: Dietmar Rabich and NDC

In a statement, sent exclusively to the Gazette, the leader of North Devon Council has warned the area may be in for a new ‘winter of discontent’ and branded the current government as ‘incompetent’.  

The Liberal Democrat leader of North Devon Council, David Worden, also warned that the housing crisis in North Devon cannot be fixed by simply building more homes without first improving existing roads and infrastructure.  

North Devon MP Selaine Saxby (Conservative) has responded to the criticism accusing the Liberal Democrat council leadership of being ‘unwilling, or just incapable of delivering improvements’. 

Councillor Worden said: “As Leader of North Devon Council I am extremely concerned that we are heading for a winter of discontent. The government needs to get a grip. 

“It is all going mad and the poorest members of society are being particularly badly hit. Taxes are going through the roof, there have been long queues at garages, furlough has ended, universal credit is being cut, gas companies are going bust, fuel prices are escalating, 120,000 pigs could well be slaughtered and incinerated, shellfish producers are losing their European markets, there is to be a massive national insurance hike and so it goes on. 

“This government appears totally incompetent and unable to plan but just eventually tries to react to a situation that is getting out of control. We warned the government that we needed more HGV drivers but they have only reacted far too late. Are we going to have shortages continuing to Christmas and beyond? 

“It was obvious after we left the EU that we needed a system of temporary visas to help where we have chronic shortages such as flower and vegetable pickers, hospitality workers, meat processing, carers etc. Where oh where was and is the forward planning? 

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“The government’s so called levelling up agenda seems so vague that nobody knows what it means. According to the County Council statistics North Devon has many of the poorest communities in Devon e.g. in Ilfracombe, Barnstaple and Lynton and yet the government put us in the lowest priority group (group three) to receive help.  Torridge was, in my opinion, quite rightly put in the top priority group (group one) but statistically North Devon should be even more of a priority. 

“This summer showed that nearly 13,000 families are receiving universal credit in northern Devon. Nearly 6,000 of these are in work but the wages are so low that they qualify for universal credit. The removal of the £20 a week is going to cause them real hardship. It is going to be a choice for many between providing food and keeping warm this winter. 

“Fuel poverty is going to hit really hard particularly if we have a cold winter and coupled with price rises as inflation is beginning to spiral it will mean that people will get into debt and the whole economy of northern Devon is going to suffer. It appears that the Prime Minister is unconcerned and is washing his hands of the situation. 

“On top of that we have the shortage of housing to rent. It is no wonder that the recently formed Torridge and North Devon housing crisis Facebook group has attracted so many members. North Devon Council’s housing department is getting around forty new families a week needing help to find accommodation. 

“House prices and rents have rocketed, normal lets’ have been taken off the market so that they can be used for AirBnB, properties are being brought as second homes, and developers are doing their best to wriggle out of providing so-called affordable homes. 

“The whole system is out of balance and gone crazy and people are suffering. Key workers are struggling to find somewhere to live and firms are finding it difficult to attract badly needed employees. The government needs to bring in legislation which gives more power to the councils to take action to readdress the situation and bring more stability. 

“Local authorities need to be allowed to borrow to build social housing without restriction and be given government grants to help provide these homes. But the answer isn’t in simply building thousands more houses, destroying our countryside and providing housing so people from the major cities can come and live here. 

“Our roads and infrastructure simply won’t take much more but something needs to be done urgently to assist local people who want to remain here. 

“It is no good just blaming everything on the pandemic. We need action from the government without delay. 

“Life is getting very hard and is going to get even worse for many in our community and if the government continues to be so incompetent then it will be a winter of real discontent.” 

Click here to read the response from Conservative North Devon MP, Selaine Saxby.

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