United front needed to ensure Devon does not remain the poor relation
- Credit: Terry Ife
Just a couple of months ago we had elections for Devon County Council and I don't recall a single voter raising the issue of local government reorganisation with me.
I'm sure that’s not a huge surprise to you. Suffice to say, it's always been my view that most people just want us to provide a good school for their children, to look after the elderly and the vulnerable, to deal with potholes and to empty their bins on time.
They don't much mind if that's done by unitary councils, district councils or county councils as long as it's done effectively and efficiently and their council tax is affordable.
So I was interested to receive a letter last month from the Local Government Secretary, Robert Jenrick, outlining his thinking about devolution and how councils could work more closely together to drive the recovery from the pandemic. Previously, Government thinking on devolution has always favoured elected Mayors or new tiers of bureaucracy but he is now suggesting councils with common history and identity should work more closely together on existing boundaries to deliver a better deal for their residents. And he won’t require elected Mayors or combined authorities.
I've written here before about Team Devon which I set up with Devon's district and town and parish councils to respond swiftly to all the extra needs and requirements of our people during the pandemic. Working with community groups and local volunteers, I believe we have delivered for Devon during the pandemic and used the additional money that was available effectively and efficiently. And our regular meetings of council leaders and chief executives throughout the crisis has brought us closer together - no matter what our individual political colours.
That's true on a wider scale with South West Councils of which I'm privileged to have been re-elected as chairman. The organisation represents 33 county, unitary and district councils stretching from Cornwall to Gloucestershire and Wiltshire as well as police, fire and rescue services, national parks and town and parish councils.
A region that size obviously has differences. But we also have many issues in common, with the economic recovery from the pandemic as our most urgent task alongside support for our vulnerable residents and our vital tourism, hospitality and food and farming sectors.
We all have a common goal in tackling climate change and reducing our carbon emissions. We must also stimulate our economy by improving communications with the rest of the country – whether that is physical infrastructure or digital - ensuring fast broadband coverage for our rural areas at an affordable price and promoting greater skills and employment for our young people.
We need to present a united front to the Government to ensure we do not remain the poor relation when it comes to funding and that we get a fair share of cash for levelling-up.
We have worked hard to support the region and been particularly active in lobbying to improve the resilience of our road and rail network.
We need to improve the supply of affordable housing for our young families who are often priced out of buying a home where they grew up. And we have to move swiftly to ensure that the professionals we are seeking to attract here like nurses, teachers and social workers can find suitable accommodation.
The South West has long been the poor relation when it comes to funding.
I will continue to work with councils of all political colours across the region to be a voice for the South West in Westminster and Whitehall and to campaign for a fair deal for local people.