A much-mooted devolution deal that could result in the creation of a new council body in Devon and the transfer of powers from Whitehall has split opinion in the region.
Under the new body, described as a ‘super council’ in some reports, there would be an increase in funding for skills training and job creation in the green economy, as well as investment to support local business.
In last week’s autumn statement, the government said it was in “advanced discussions to agree
a Level 2 non-mayoral deal with Devon and Torbay”, under the heading “Boosting growth and investment across the country”.
The new Combined County Authority (CCA) would reportedly also have greater control and resources to address the housing crisis locally and public transport. The CCA would include councillors from Devon and Torbay, as well as from District Councils, although it would not require an elected mayor.
The deal enjoys the backing of Devon County Council and Torbay but Plymouth decided to withdraw from the plan earlier this month.
The leader of South Hams District Council (SHDC), Julian Brazil, was lukewarm about the proposal. He told this paper that SHDC “was always a bit part player in this”, although he admitted being surprised at the latest development. “I never thought it would happen, but to be fair it’s moved a step closer,” he said.
“At least there’s going to be a public consultation on the deal in the new year. They could have done that earlier rather than being faced with a fait-accompli, but it’s better than nothing. Again, we need to be told the whole story here. Are there really going to be extra powers with the money to back them up? If there is, who is going to control the purse strings and decide where and what money is spent on? The better informed the better the decision is my mantra.”
By contrast, the leader of Devon County Council, John Hart, said the prospect of finalising the deal was “hugely significant”, claiming it will put Devon and Torbay in a “very different relationship” with government.
He said: “We will have a stronger voice in Whitehall and an ability to influence policy for the benefit of our residents, communities, and businesses. This is just the beginning of new opportunities that we can build on.
“Significant Government funding and powers devolved locally will enable us as a partnership to make a real difference to people’s lives in ways that matter most to them – using our new powers to deliver more affordable and social housing by our District Councils, promoting green economic growth, creating skilled jobs and training opportunities, and providing better public transport.”
The leader od Torbay council, David Thomas, also welcomed the new CCA “will bring positive benefits for our residents and businesses, giving Torbay and Devon a stronger voice”.
However, Plymouth recently pulled out of the deal, with council leader Tudor Evans claiming the city would have “less power and control over transport…with no commitment to increased resources”.
He said: “Despite meetings with the government minister and numerous letters, they are insisting that we surrender our powers and funding regarding transport. Therefore, we have no choice but to withdraw. It is massively disappointing given all the work that has taken place and we hope the Government will realise the final deal it offered was unreasonable and unrealistic and that it will reconsider in the future.”