Council’s launch bid for more powers

“Team Devon” is the new catch phrase apparently. – Owl

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter 

Councils across Devon are to launch a bid for more devolved powers from Westminster.

The move comes after the government announced it was looking at reviewing its current arrangements with the counties and local authorities.

In a speech on ‘levelling up’ the country last month, prime minister Boris Johnson talked about the “need to rewrite the rulebook with new deals for the counties” and the possibility of directly elected mayors.

Devon’s councils plan to build on what they say are close working relationships developed during the pandemic when they formed ‘Team Devon’ to respond to the challenges of covid. The group, which does not include unitary authorities  Plymouth and Torbay, has the backing of business groups, public sector organisations and the county’s MPs.

Devon County Council leader John Hart, who chairs Team Devon, said: “I believe we have delivered for Devon during the pandemic and used the additional money that was available effectively and efficiently on behalf of our residents.

“Our regular meetings of council leaders and chief executives from the county and all the districts – along with town and parish representatives – brought us closer together and the trust we built up meant that we could act swiftly and decisively. We want to build on that cooperation and trust in a deal for Devon.

“It would require the government to support us to do the very best we can for Devon and its residents and businesses as we drive the recovery, tackle climate change, boost skills, improve our infrastructure and connectivity and confront the very real problems we have to face such as the shortage of affordable housing.

“We believe Team Devon is ideally placed to negotiate a deal for Devon with the government. So we’ve asked our officers to start preparing proposals that we can discuss with ministers and Whitehall over the summer so that we can be at the head of the queue when the levelling-up white paper is published.”

Teignbridge District Council leader Alan Connett broadly welcomes the joint statement from Team Devon: “If it’s possible to bring more powers down from government to our area, which helps us serve our communities better then we should be looking at that,” he said.

“The public have elected us, and elected their local representatives, but I think sometimes government tend to hold a lot of power which could be passed down locally.”

However, while Cllr Connett backed councils working closer together in some areas, he rejected the idea of a unitary authority for Devon like the one recently given the go-ahead in Somerset, saying it would be “an enormous cost, an enormous waste of time”.

“Our whole focus at the moment should be on the recovery from covid, on creating and protecting jobs, on booming our economy, on supporting our communities.

“From what I’ve seen in the past, when people start talking about local government reorganisation, it hasn’t done a jot for the public while all that’s been happening. A lot of money gets spent on it and now is not the time in my view.”

Devon County Council is now working with district authorities on developing proposals for more devolved powers for Devon. The bid will be sent to ministers later in the year.