Last week was particularly busy with local meetings on several very important issues.
Post Offices - I met with the sub-postmaster of Chudleigh Post Office to discuss the decision by Royal Mail to remove the sorting office from the branch. I am pressing the Post Office for a meeting to discuss the compensation package they are offering to branches in Central Devon and to see if there are other ways the Post Office can help protect the sustainability of these branches.
Education - on Friday I met with several headteachers and heads of schools in our constituency to discuss the major funding boost the Government has announced for education, worth an additional £14billion over the next three years. The minimum levels of per pupil funding will increase to £4,000 in primaries over the next two years and to £5,000 in secondary schools next year. To give this context, in the 2019-20 financial year our secondary schools received £4,395 per pupil, so we are talking about a significant increase. The meeting was very positive and we were all optimistic that this increased funding will make a real difference. It was also good to be able to catch up on several important specific issues such as the operation of the Special Educational Needs offering in Devon.
Fire Services – I visited Ashburton Fire Station for the second time in the last month. The station is under threat of closure with The Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority having a major shake-up of their operations, arguing that much of its organisation is decades old and that there needs to be a reallocation of resources towards higher risk areas. Ashburton is also relatively close to the stations in Bovey Tracey and Buckfastleigh. I have sent in a response to the consultation calling for the station to remain open. There are significant risks in my view around the loss the skilled standby crew which would inevitably occur if these proposals go ahead. Ashburton Fire Station is ideally located close to the A38 and is a good base for any callouts on Dartmoor. I will continue to work closely with local fire station personnel to resist its closure and am taking these key arguments directly to the fire authority.
Rural Broadband - Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) the organisation responsible for the rollout of superfast broadband in the hardest to reach rural areas, has terminated five contracts awarded to one of its key suppliers, citing delays and failure to meet targets. While CDS launches a fresh procurement on the open market this autumn, I encourage residents and businesses in Central Devon who may still be facing slow speeds to look seriously at broadband vouchers which potentially enable businesses and personal customers to claim up to £2,500 and £500 respectively to help with the costs of getting a faster connection. More information is available at www.connectingdevonandsomerset.co.uk/cds-broadband-voucher-scheme.