Devolution deal could help transform our Devon communities

Not entirely clear what John Hart is proposing, a single Devon-wide unitary authority perhaps?

But it looks like the end of our ineffectual Local Enterprise Partnership “Heart of the South West”.

Transforming our Devon communities

John Hart, Leader Devon County Council from this week’s Exmouth Journal

The term’s become something of a cliche but the Government’s Levelling-Up agenda could bring welcome benefits for Devon.

I’ve written here before about Team Devon and the close working relationship the county council has developed with district, town and parish councils across Devon originally to deliver help and support for vulnerable people during the pandemic.

But we have also been cooperating on the county’s economic recovery from Covid and the housing crisis affecting us. We have also linked up with Plymouth and Torbay to propose a county-wide devolution deal to the Government that will deliver both economic and social benefits for local people.

You may have seen that earlier this year, ours was one of nine bids from around the country invited to start discussions with Ministers and civil servants and that’s now underway with the aim of achieving agreement by the autumn.

This isn’t necessarily about asking for more funding – although that would be nice – but about taking on extra powers and influence to improve the economic and social conditions for the communities we all serve. For example, bringing together the responsibilities for areas such as skills and training that are currently spread across many organisations and having more say in how Government resources are spent in our communities something that is all too often determined by bureaucrats 200 miles away in London. I firmly believe devolving funding and power to the most local level possible is absolutely the right thing to do.

As well as skills and training, we’ve identified affordable housing, health and social care, and transport and digital connectivity as our key priorities alongside clean, Green economic growth to help pay for these improvements.

I believe this is a groundbreaking opportunity for our councils – working as a strong team – to partner with the Government on a deal that’s right for all our communities and best for business.

If we get this right, we could really transform the future for people and communities right across Devon.

We want to drive up skills and training, create more opportunities for our young people to find good jobs locally and deliver more affordable homes that meet the needs of local people.

We have world-beating examples of enterprise and innovation across our county and we must build on them to deliver opportunities for businesses and individuals and so drive up prosperity for all our residents. As well as our partnership in Team Devon and with Plymouth and Torbay, we propose working in close collaboration with our colleagues in the health sector, in business, our universities and colleges, towns and parishes, housing associations and national parks. There is real strength in our unity, which the Government has recognised, and by working together we can achieve much more for the people of Devon. It’s about us coming together to have one voice and being a credible partner with national Government and others to be able to get investment and development, having more power and influence on funding and decision-making locally.

But let me make it very clear. This is not about more bureaucracy. We do not believe elected mayors work well outside of big cities and conurbations. Instead, we believe our existing councils have already demonstrated they can work together strategically and we want to develop and refine this whilst respecting the sovereignty of our individual authorities.

And, if you will allow a political leader to say this, it is also above politics. Our current Devolution Deal proposals are backed by Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and non-aligned council leaders. What we all want is the best for Devon.