Members vote in favour of sign off on devolution bid

At last night’s extraordinary meeting of East Devon District Council, on Thursday January 28, there was cross party support from Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Independent members, who gave widespread backing for the Heart of the South West Devolution Programme, by voting overwhelmingly in favour of the council approving the prospectus and the Leader of East Devon District Council being given delegated authority to continue negotiations on behalf of the council. The prospectus is a detailed document that maps out proposals for a deal that will devolve powers and finance from Westminster to the Heart of the South West partnership.

Members also noted that clear objectives had been set for the negotiation and that an oversight group has already been established and has met. They also noted all the work that has been done to date and that rural proofing had been included in the draft bid.

The bid document, which reflects months of work by council chiefs in Devon, Somerset, Plymouth and Torbay, with 13 district councils, Dartmoor and Exmoor National parks, the local NHS and the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, was approved on January 25 2016 by Heart of the South West partners and will be submitted to Government, once the remaining partners have given their formal endorsement.

If implemented, devolution aims to turnaround productivity in the South West, which is currently running at less than 80% of the national average. By 2030, devolution could help deliver powerful benefits such as:

  • 163,000 new jobs
  • 179,000 more homes  
  • Higher wage levels which are above the national average  
  • Apprenticeship starts up by 400 per cent
  • Every young person in education, employment or training
  • A better qualified workforce
  • Faster, more rail services with greater capacity
  • Faster road journeys with less congestion
  • 100 per cent superfast broadband coverage
  • A UK centre of excellence for skills development

Next steps

Once the remaining partners have formally approved the prospectus,  the aim is to submit the prospectus to Government by the end of February and then to initiate discussion and formal negotiation with a view to signing a deal within the first half of 2016.

Commenting on the ratification of devolution by councillors, Councillor Paul Diviani, Leader of East Devon District Council, said:

We know that there may be no additional money coming in as a result of participating in devolution, but there are ways of working smarter and making existing funds work harder for all of our residents. We’re trying to drive this process from the bottom upwards and we want to ensure that a cohesive and joined up approach is taken.

Devolution is important for the district and will bring many benefits, so we do need to be engaged in the process. It may result in increased investment in East Devon, produce more and better paid jobs and, with more powers and finance devolved to us, it will allow us to close the productivity gap and let local people benefit from a thriving economy.

We are also mindful of the importance of issues within our own district and will do everything we can to ensure that the productivity agenda will include projects such as improvements to the A303/A30, a North/South relief road for Axminster, the demand for rural workspace from innovation-led businesses, the opportunity to reinvest business rate income in the district and to bring forward employment sites and business growth infrastructure through a growth hubs focus in East Devon’s main towns.