Councils are ‘keeping a foot in the door’ on Devon and Somerset devolution deal

The leaders of local councils in Devon and Somerset, including Andrea Davis, chairman of Exmoor Nati

The leaders of local councils in Devon and Somerset, including Andrea Davis, chairman of Exmoor National Park Authority; Des Brailey, leader of North Devon Council; and Jane Whittaker, leader of Torridge District Council are pictured with the bid paper. Picture: Submitted - Credit: Archant

Bid for devolved powers is ‘still on track’ but fresh concerns raised about amount of money being offered to take on new responsibilities.

The Heart of the South West devolution bid area. Picture: Submitted

The Heart of the South West devolution bid area. Picture: Submitted - Credit: Archant

Councils are still working together to broker a devolution deal for Devon and Somerset, according to North Devon Council leader Des Brailey.

Efforts to devolve powers to the two regions has hit a critical stage in recent weeks after the Government revealed its preference for an elected mayor – and after it emerged that Plymouth, Exeter and Torbay were exploring opportunities to launch a rival bid.

But speaking following a crunch meeting with other Heart of the South West (HotSW) partners in Cullompton on Friday, Mr Brailey said that while the rival bid had the potential to ‘weaken’ the HotSW bid, he thought the process was ‘still on track’.

“We agreed to set up a joint committee and continue working together to see how best we can look at the issues facing Devon and Somerset,” he said.

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“Nothing is moving forward at the moment but I’d like to think we are still on track; it’s more a case of keeping our foot in the door.”

But Mr Brailey reiterated his opposition for an elected mayor and voiced fresh concerns that the money being offered to successful bids might not be sufficient.

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“As we understand it the Government is offering £15million in other areas with an elected mayor and that’s clearly not a lot of money when spread between 22 authorities.

“Even if they doubled it to £30m it is still not a lot of money.

“The Government will say here is your money and these are your new responsibilities. That’s not a problem if the money matches the responsibilities and gives you an opportunity to run things better for the community.

“But I fear that the money won’t be sufficient for North Devon to carry out the Government’s wishes.”

And Mr Brailey said there could be even less money without an elected mayor.

“The stakes have changed very slightly,” he said.

“It’s now being suggested that without an elected mayor we won’t get a lot out of it.

“I think it would disenfranchise our area – there is no chance it would be a mayor from northern Devon.

“He or she will be able to make their own decisions that may or may not be of benefit to us. I believe we would be a poor relation.

“And we are talking about a fourth level of local government and clearly people are going to ask what’s going on – it’ll be another tier of government complete with an entourage.”

The devolution bid would see the creation of a new body to take decisions on issues such as transport, education and health at a regional level and not a national one.

Together, the 17 local authorities, both national parks, the local enterprise partnership and all three clinical commissioning groups submitted a Prospectus for Productivity to the Government last year.

In October, they gave their in-principle approval to set up a combined authority to support the deal and the creation of a joint committee is seen as a precursor to a new combined authority.

Also speaking following Friday’s meeting, Devon County Council leader John Hart said: “All the leaders agreed on Friday to ask their councils to support the creation of a joint committee to drive this plan forward.

“It was re-emphasised that we need a strong regional voice to ensure the Government delivers the resources we require to improve our roads, rail and other infrastructure so we can boost productivity and enhance the job opportunities and living conditions of our people.”

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