Council priority three A resilient economy
Covid‑19 has had a significant and detrimental impact on the economy of East Devon. Before the pandemic, the district was in almost full employment. Through the pandemic one third of employees across the district were furloughed and longer term the unemployment rate has been forecast to increase.
During the first half of 2020, over 1,000 jobs were lost due to companies going into administration or relocating, including the collapse of Flybe. Many jobs that have been lost have been high value and skilled engineering roles but just as many are in the lower paid sectors of our local economy.
We understand the shift in patterns of behaviour, including more working from home, and the importance of improving access to and the speed of broadband, especially in rural areas.
We have witnessed an increase in occupation of second homes through the move of people out of cities in response to the pandemic and the impact on our local economy and infrastructure.
We also recognise the impact on our town centres of the loss of footfall, through people working from home and the increase in the use of home delivery, rather than local shopping. This might require us to review our planning policies in relation to the conversion of retail and secondary shopping areas to residential or live-work use.
Covid-19 precautions in Budleigh Salterton
It is our overriding priority to strive for a resilient economy in order to promote prosperity and reduce hardship within the district. Not only will we seek to increase the levels of employment, but we will also seek to improve the quality of employment to raise wages levels across East Devon.
We will consider the use of our assets as a council and our planning policies to support regeneration and create employment opportunities.
We recognise the economic as well as the social value of tourism, art and culture to the local economy and the wealth that is generated in those sectors.
Exeter Science Park
We also recognise the importance of working as a part of Team Devon in order to drive recovery for the East Devon economy. We will continue to promote the development of the Exeter and East Devon Enterprise Zone as key to the prosperity of our district.
Our priority actions for a resilient economy
Promoting the green economy
- Support working from home to reduce carbon emissions through unnecessary travel and facilitate the economic sustainability of our local towns and communities.
- Deliver a tourist strategy with emphasis on the on the green economy.
Our financial stability
- Maintain an active approach sourcing and securing available funds to help with asset management and the promotion of the district’s economy.
- Provide in-house commercial services such as pest control and food safety training that provide value for money to residents and local businesses, whilst creating new and valuable revenue streams for the council.
- Work with the Department of Work and Pensions, regional and local partners to develop and co-ordinate an effective redundancy response network to respond to the serious economic challenges that the pandemic has brought to our district and our residents.
- Work with our Growth Hub to support local small and start-up businesses through free access to tailored advice and guidance, stepping up that support as businesses grow and develop and addressing barriers to business growth and innovation.
- Ensure that all our assets (including car parks) are used in the most effective way and that their development potential is evaluated to support employment and create economic growth and prosperity for all.
Supporting our local economy
- Develop the infrastructure needed to support our local economy, including transport and housing.
- Use the procurement power as a council to support local businesses.
- Provide support and advice to businesses through investment in our Environmental Health department.
- Explore the use of the doughnut economic model to guide policy and decision-making and ensure that ethical, socially responsible, and financially-sound decisions are made in an open, transparent and democratic manner.
Financial stability for a better future
We recognise that the Council Plan needs to be affordable. However, councils in England face acute financial challenges, especially as central government financial support for councils has been reducing over the past decade and demand for some services has been increasing.
The council’s Medium Term Financial Plan shows that existing service costs and expected income leaves a budget gap of £3 million in 2022/23 and a further gap of £1.2 million in 2023/24. This is against a net budget of £15.8 million. Difficult decisions will need to be made in respect of prioritising and delivering services and operating as an organisation.
In response to declining government grant, some authorities invested heavily in commercial property by borrowing via Public Works Loan Board loans in the hope that the rental yield would cover the loan costs and realise a profit to pay for services. However, over the last nine months, rental yields have plummeted. In some cases, this has resulted in the local authority being banned from any new expenditure except for statutory services. Fortunately, East Devon District Council has not had a commercial exposure to this extent, but despite government assistance regarding the impact of Covid‑19, we are still faced with challenges to balance the books for the foreseeable future.
Planning to address the identified funding gap has started, but we still need to look at ways of increasing our income and reducing costs to be able to sustain our current services, meet new requirements and needs and benefit from new opportunities.
Several our services are statutory like our recycling and waste collection. Other services are discretionary, but no less valued by residents such as public toilets and parks. Looking ahead the challenge is to get the balance right between the cost to residents and businesses and the benefits provided in terms of the quality of our environment, the health and wellbeing of residents and the strength and resilience of our local economy.
We also realise there will be a long-term impact of the pandemic on the local economy, both on businesses and on individuals, that will influence the council’s priorities, resources and services.
There are a number forthcoming decisions that impact on our budget. There is a refuse and recycling contractual tipping point that will be triggered by further property growth that will lead to higher costs plus the government changes to the national recycling requirements that may affect our collection policy and costs. We also need to implement the review of car parking charges plus and to install electric vehicles chargers to prepare for more green travel. Through 2021/22 we are undertaking a review into the provision of public toilets.
In the light of these pressures, we will need to focus on statutory services that we must deliver and discretionary services that the public value to help us to prioritise services through the Council Plan.
To deliver the vision through our Council Plan, we will refocus our resources and efficiently utilise our assets, invest to save and innovate, ensure a sound return on investment (both financial and social), keep our Council Tax within government guidelines and agree legally required balanced budgets.
We will identify new funding streams as they become available and ensure we bid for additional income where possible to secure the income needed to implement the Council Plan.
Where necessary we will lobby the government for changes in policy and funding so that we can implement our priorities, securing the resources required for delivery.