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“This will be one of the most ground-breaking developments in decades,” says Council Leader

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Councillor John Hart is the Leader of our council. He was asked by the magazine, the Municipal Journal, about the opportunities that could follow for Devon and Torbay with a proposed new deal that will see the transfer of powers and funding from Whitehall to Devon and Torbay.

“I firmly believe this will be one of the most ground-breaking developments in decades for the one million people we represent in Devon and Torbay,” he says.

You can read his article for the Municipal Journal, here.

“I’ve been extremely lucky to have had a long and satisfying career in local government. Some of my political opponents might say too long.

“But one of the most satisfying moments is set to be the completion of our devolution deal with the Government to transfer powers and funding to Devon and Torbay.

“We’ve worked closely with our colleagues in Devon’s eight district councils and Torbay on our proposals over a number of years.

“The Levelling Up Minister, Jacob Young, visited last month to sign the ground-breaking deal.

“And  both my Cabinet and Torbay’s Cabinet have now backed the proposals and authorised a public consultation period. We’ll also be consulting business leaders, local government colleagues and our universities and colleges and, all being well, we will be able to conclude the deal later this year.

“I firmly believe this will be one of the most ground-breaking developments in decades for the one million people we represent in Devon and Torbay.

“The Devon and Torbay Combined County Authority, which will be amongst the first of this new model, will bring local councillors and partners together to deliver on the deal with Government.

“Under our proposals we will have stronger links with Homes England to develop more affordable housing. Our area is one of the most popular holiday destinations and we’ve seen many rental properties converted to holiday accommodation. So more affordable accommodation is a vital necessity for thousands of local people who currently don’t have anywhere safe and warm to call home.

“That will also feed in to an improving economy because many businesses are also currently hamstrung by the lack of homes. Even if they can recruit a suitably qualified person, they often can’t find anywhere they can afford  to live.

“We will also work more closely with employers and our schools, colleges and universities to ensure we have the skilled workforce our economy needs and we will take direct control of adult education to enable us to create thousands of new training opportunities.

“We urgently need to improve our productivity which lags significantly behind the UK average. Per capita public spending has historically trailed the rest of the UK and – despite the cream teas and cottages image – there is real poverty in some of our rural areas and coastal towns.

“Parts of Torridge and northern Devon are amongst the bottom five per cent worst affected areas of England, and West Devon and Torbay have the lowest and second-lowest workplace-based wages of any authority in the country.

“The initial agreement with the Government will see us receiving £16 million to invest in new green jobs, homes, skills and business growth and accelerate our transition to a net-zero economy.

“And there would be a significant boost to our local, high growth business sectors such as advanced marine engineering, defence and digital.

“Devon and Torbay would work in a more integrated way to improve public transport and introduce a single ticketing system for travellers.

“None of this will require a directly elected Mayor which we have strongly resisted. That can work well in urban areas but not somewhere like Devon with its spread out population and scores of communities with their own individual identities.

“I often tell visiting Ministers and civil servants that it’s further from the Atlantic coast of north Devon to the southern tip of the county on the English channel than it is between the northern and southern stretches of the M25.

“During the pandemic I set up Team Devon bringing together the leaders and CEOs of the county, our eight districts and representatives of our towns and parishes and national parks to work with our voluntary and community groups to get help swiftly to our citizens.

“So our combined authority will reflect that cooperative spirit with representatives from Devon, Torbay and the districts.

“That means councillors who have already been elected will come together with leading figures from business and education to make decisions.

“I have always said I believe we can do things more efficiently and more effectively here in Devon for the communities we know rather than being subject to decisions  made in London.  I believe this is a real opportunity for us to take the initiative and make a real difference to people’s lives in ways that matter to them the most, tackling the shortage of affordable housing and the need for more investment to support local businesses. It will bring new training and re-training opportunities and enable us to increase productivity and help people working here to boost their pay and have a better standard of living.

“In means Devon and Torbay will have a new and very different relationship with the Government one where we will have a stronger voice in Whitehall and an ability to influence policy for the benefit of our residents, communities and businesses.

“It’s just the beginning of the new opportunities on which we can build.”