“Key figures in Devon and Somerset devolution deal meet to thrash out a way forward”

Owl says: Translation of headline – “A few rich businesspeople with vested interests and a few power hungry but rather uninformed councillors with their eye on the future panic because they risk having their fingers extracted from lucrative pies and will make unsustainable promises if that’s what it takes to keep them in”.

And as for that “productivity strategy”:

“Moves to shift more power and cash to the Westcountry took an important step forward this week when key players met civil servants to thrash out the way forward. The Westcountry has been pushing to join former Chancellor George Osborne’s “devolution revolution”, which would take powers away from London and put it into the hands of local people.

The first meeting in Whitehall last week included discussions on transport infrastructure, broadband access, home building and support for business growth.

The bid for devolution is led by the Heart of the South West local enterprise partnership, which includes leaders from business and councils across Somerset and Devon, including Plymouth, Torbay and Exeter.

A delegation has now met representatives from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to discuss devolution proposals.

The group claims that additional decision making and budget powers could have huge benefits for the Westcountry, including higher productivity, better paid jobs, improved transport links and more affordable homes.

Devon and Somerset are lagging behind the rest of the country. By November 2016, 11 regions had already reached devolution agreements.

Heart of the South West submitted its first proposal in February 2016, but has yet to reach a concrete deal.

An earlier stumbling block, the election of a regional mayor, has already been removed by the Government.

The issue had threatened to split the partnership.

But now civil servants have agreed to hold regular meetings on the issue, according to the region’s leaders involved in the bid.

Plymouth Council leader Ian Bowyer said: “Creating a strong economy, which means jobs, stability and strong prospects for our young people as well as families is vital for the future of Plymouth and the region as a whole. We are already working together across so many areas to deliver growth.

“This was a really positive meeting and sets the scene for closer working that will benefit all our residents.”

A total of 23 partnership organisations from across the region, which also includes clinical commissioning groups and national parks, are involved in the plans.

A joint committee for the Heart of the South West economic region is now being set up to move the discussions forward.

Cllr David Fothergill, chair of the Heart of the South West shadow joint committee, said of last week’s meeting: “We explained our vision for the area and how to help it become more prosperous.

“We discussed skills, transport infrastructure, broadband access, ways to provide more homes where they are needed and support for businesses to grow, innovate and export more. We also talked about the specific challenges faced by rural communities.”

The group said its first meeting will be in March, where it will agree a productivity strategy.”


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