Devolution plan aims for big benefits

Somerset County Council today welcomed a ground-breaking devolution plan that would bring big benefits to the county.

The detailed plan aims for higher productivity and better-paid jobs, improved road, rail and broadband links and more homes for the region’s growing population. It has been agreed by 23 local partners including the County Council and all five district councils in Somerset and the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership.

The plan would also see radical reforms to integrate health and social care that would allow the ageing population to be better looked after, tailored support for growing businesses and the creation of a centre of excellence for skills development.

Leader of Somerset County Council, John Osman, organised a devolution summit August last year and is delighted at the way authorities across the region have come together.

“It’s remarkable that so much hard work has been done so quickly and that’s testament to how important we all believe this can be.” he said. “This is about helping us deliver more for our residents in key areas like the economy, homes, health and social care.

“It’s a truly exciting opportunity for all the local authorities involved and what we’re looking for from devolution will support the County Council’s Vision for Somerset, which also has its emphasis on employment, skills and housing. This is a chance we cannot miss.”

The bid follows months of work by council chiefs in Somerset, Devon, 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.

They want more powers and finance devolved from Westminster to the region so they can close the productivity gap and allow local people to benefit from a thriving economy. productivity in the South West is running at less than 80 of the national average.

The document promises that, if local councils have greater freedom to act, by 2030 they will help deliver across the region:
• 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

The document, which will be discussed at the County Council’s Full Council meeting on 17 February, recognises that the South West already has world-beating expertise in several areas. These include nuclear technology at Hinkley Point and aerospace in Yeovil, as well as its traditional industries like agriculture, fishing and tourism.

Cllr Osman added: “We have come together with shared priorities and the common aim of making the most of for the people we represent and work for.

“The plan is ambitious and that reflects our pride in what the region has to offer and our belief in its future potential. I look forward to taking the next steps with colleagues from across the South West.”

The document is due to be submitted to central Government in the coming weeks, precise date yet to be confirmed.

To view the full “prospectus for productivity” click here.

Plymouth City Council Leader, Tudor Evans, said: “We lag behind the rest of the country in terms of productivity and need to act now to improve the opportunities for our young people, so that they have the right skills to get good jobs and grow their careers in this region, helping us all to become more prosperous.
“We also want to see more local people employed in some of the major opportunities coming our way.
“We are making the Government an offer they can’t refuse.”

Devon County Council Leader John Hart said: “We are presenting a united front to the Government and saying this is our vision for our region, let’s negotiate on how you can help us to achieve it.
“I firmly believe, as local people, we can do things more effectively and more efficiently locally than being told what to do by London.
“This is the first time in my political lifetime that the Government has offered the opportunity to draw down powers like these.
“This could mean real power coming to the South West. This is a real opportunity for this council and other councils and we would be foolish not to seize it.
“We should be working together for the benefit of the people of Devon and the South West.”

Steve Hindley, Chair of the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Businesses across the Heart of the South West are the driving force that will deliver transformational growth and keen to be at the helm of a prospective devolution deal alongside local authority partners.
“We look forward to working with Government and investors as we embark on this journey towards prosperity and increased productivity that will benefit not only the Heart of the South West but the UK economy as a whole.”

The partners involved in the devolution document are as follows:
• Heart of the South West LEP
• Somerset County Council
• Somerset’s district and borough councils: Mendip, Sedgemoor, South Somerset, Taunton Deane and West Somerset
• Devon County Council
• Devon’s district and borough councils: East Devon, Mid Devon, North Devon, South Hams, Teignbridge, Torridge and West Devon
• Plymouth City Council
• Exeter City Council
• Torbay Council
• Exmoor National Park
• Dartmoor National Park
• Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group
• Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group
• South Devon and Torbay Clinical Commissioning Group